An 18th-century Carroll County landmark will be the main attraction when more than 200 preservationists and others fascinated with old mills gather in Westminster this year.
When the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills holds its annual conference in Maryland for the first time this September, members from across the United States and Canada will focus upon one of Maryland's gems: the Union Mills Homestead.
Half a dozen volunteers, who worked more than a year to bring the conference to Carroll County, are busy planning events at Union Mills and visits to other mills in the area -- part of a region once known as America's breadbasket.
The Union Mills Homestead dates to 1797, when the house and mill were built by Andrew and David Shriver, according to the Web site of Union Mills Homestead Foundation Inc., and has been occupied by Shriver descendants since then. The brick mill still grinds -- buckwheat, whole wheat, rye and cornmeal packaged in 2-pound souvenir bags -- and runs on water from Big Pipe Creek, north of Westminster on the Littlestown Pike.
"We have heard so much about Union Mills in the last few years," said Kevin Johnson of Beloit, Wis., president of the preservation society, via e-mail. "We are excited about gathering in Maryland in September. ... In the last few years, we have been in Tennessee, New Jersey, South Carolina, Virginia, Ontario, Quebec, North Carolina, Indiana and Wisconsin."
James M. Shriver III, president of the Union Mills foundation, said, "It's an opportunity to show Union Mills and others in this area to hundreds of visitors. It's really quite an interesting project for us and the state of Maryland."
Ivan F. Lufriu of Littlestown was on the committee that worked to bring the convention to Union Mills, where he once was the full-time miller.
"The unique part about Union Mills is the careful way it was reconstructed," said Lufriu, who still volunteers there. "The working parts were very accurately restored -- the wooden gears, the wooden water wheel, the original millstone. It can still grind grain the way it was done 200 or more years ago."
Marlene Lufriu, Ivan's wife and also a steering committee member, said the conference, based at a Westminster motel, will include speakers, workshops, demonstrations and seminars during 2 1/2 days, plus optional side trips.
"The [preservation society] convention has never been in Maryland before," she said. "We're going to center the conference along the Mason-Dixon line into Southern Pennsylvania."
The Lufrius said they are scheduling trips to some outstanding mills, including Anderson's, between Greencastle and Mercersburg; Shank's in the Waynesboro area; and Clear Spring, near Dillsburg in York County. They may also arrange a visit to a paper mill near Hanover, Pa.
Ivan Lufriu said the conference averages about 200 people, "and we think it will do a lot more. We are reaching out to other groups: early American industries, early American history, Carroll County school students, engineering groups, architects. So we're a good mix.
"And photographers, of course," he added.
The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills, a nonprofit international group chartered in Maine in 1972, includes mill owners, old mill buffs, museum curators, writers, teachers, artists, photographers, equipment supply firms and institutions such as libraries, according to its Web site. It includes all kinds of old mills -- from windmills to whiskey stills -- but seems to focus upon the classic water-powered grist mill.
Jane Shriver Sewell has been the Union Mills foundation's executive director for the past five years, and her husband, Robert Sewell, has also been a volunteer miller. She came late to the Shriver family heritage, but quickly became an enthusiast and regular attendee at preservation society events.
"What's really fun is to see the different mills around the country," she said. "We can't take a trip without winding up at some mill ... Carroll County's going to be tickled to death. It's a little bitty county -- and it's going to put them on the map."
She predicted that mill enthusiasts will return to the area once they've seen it.
Carroll has 19 mills standing -- some just barely, said Ivan Lufriu, who provided a list. Union Mills is one of the few in Maryland that can still grind grain.
There once were far more, said John W. McGrain, the Baltimore County historian in its office of planning.
"There were lots of mills in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia -- it was a giant wheat basket," he said.
The 1850s represented the peak of the industry, McGrain said, referring to an 1852 compilation of manufacturers. It lists 147 grist mills, 245 flour mills, 25 paper mills, 33 cotton mills, 43 woolen mills, 118 saw mills, and 16 distilleries -- probably most of them making whiskey, he said.