Built sometime around 1747 along Pickering Creek, the Mill at Anselma has been milling grain, on and off, for over 270 years. Built by Samuel Lightfoot, it was once known as the Lightfoot Mill and passed through numerous owners over the years. The Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust, which owns and operates the mill, chose to restore and display most of the mill’s technological improvements rather than restore it to any specific time period. The mill is open for tours and demonstrations from early April through early December. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005.
The land on
which the Mill at Anselma now occupies was once owned by William Penn, until 1705,
when he sold it to Joseph Pike. Pike, in
1725, sold 500 acres to Samuel Lightfoot, a surveyor by trade and Quaker by
religion. The purchase made Lightfoot
the largest land holder in Pikeland Township.
Lightfoot quickly realized that there was some money to be made as the
demand for milled grain grew as the population of the colonies grew. As a result, he decided to use Pickering
Creek, which flowed through his property, to power a grist mill. The 2.5 story,
rubble stone mill was built sometime around 1747 and it, along with his
surveying fees, made Lightfoot the wealthiest man in the township according to
Lightfoot divided the land equally between his two sons. Thomas received a saw mill along with his 250
acres, while William inherited the same amount of land along with the grist
mill. As William aged, so too did the
mill and both fell into disrepair by the time of his death in 1796. William’s son, Samuel, operated the mill
until 1812 when he sold it to James Benson and Lewis Rees of Reading. They operated the mill for 8 years, but did
little to maintain it. In 1820, the mill
was acquired by Rees Sheneman who took on the difficult task of renovating and
upgrading the mill. Sheneman installed new elevators and conveyors
which eliminated the need to transport grain from floor to floor by hand.
owner of the mill was Elias Oberholtzer, who purchased it in 1859. His son, John, operated the mill and married
poet Sara Louisa Vickers who incorporated the mill into her poetry, especially
in her poem, At the Old Mill.
John Oberholtzer was injured in a mill accident in 1871 and turned over
operations to outside help. During this
period, a small town grew up around the mill as a result of the nearby
Conestoga Turnpike and a Reading Railroad spur line which arrived in 1872. Known as Cambria, the town had its own post
office, warehouse, train station and general store, co-owned by
Oberholtzer. The town’s name was changed
to Anselma in 1886.
then passed to Allen Simmers in 1886 who installed a steel water wheel and replaced
its wooden sluiceway with an iron pipe.
Simmers later sold the mill to its last private owner, Oliver Collins,
in 1919. Collins, a jack-of-all-trades,
also operated a saw mill, cider press, lawn mower repair and barber shop on the
property. He continued to live on the property
until his death in 1982 when it was purchased, restored and stabilized by the
French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust.
In 1998, a new administering organization, the Mill at Anselm Preservation
and Educational Trust, took over the 22-acre site. They continued restoration efforts and again milled
flour in 2004. They continue to do so
and sell it along with stone-ground cornmeal.