Preserving Whitehall's Past  
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Whitehall Historical Preservation Society
P.O. Box 39 - Whitehall, PA 18052-0039
(610) 776-7280
Email WHPS At: WHPS@verizon.net
Helfrich Springs Grist Mill - 501 Mickley Road
Peter Grim Homestead - 506 Mickley Road
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Helfrich Springs Grist Mill History

 

NOTE: This was written in 1997. The Mill is now over 200 years old. The WHPS celebrated the Anniversary on August 12, 2007.

By Karen Gensey, Whitehall PA, copyright April 1997

The 190-year-old Helfrich Springs Grist Mill is the last remaining grist mill out of five that once existed in Whitehall Township. Built by Peter Grim in 1807, the mill stands along the Jordan Creek on a portion of a 300-acre tract of land originally patented by Jacob Wertz in 1749.

The Helfrich Springs Grist Mill was one of only two mills in Lehigh County that was powered directly from a spring. Water flows through a mill race from a spring about 60 perches to the north, supplying the necessary waterpower that turned its breast waterwheel which has since disintegrated.

Peter Grim was born in 1771 and located in Whitehall Township at age 31. When Grim purchased this tract of land from George Adam Blank in 1802, a log mill structure, built by George Hoffman in 1753, stood on the site of the present mill. The earlier mill doubled as a place of worship in this sparsely inhabited frontier. A nearby cemetery used in connection with these religious services was demolished in 1895.

Grim erected the stone grist mill in 1807 and operated it until his death in 1837. He and his wife, Diana VanBuskerck, had one daughter, Elizabeth. The family resided in a 2-story log house nearby until Peter Grim built the brick home across the road from the mill in 1834.

Being the only heir, Elizabeth inherited the entire property. She married James Deshler in 1819 and had six children. Her eldest son, Jacob Grim Deshler, operated the grist mill and farmed the land owned by the family.

After her decease in 1871, the stone grist mill and 55 acres of land were sold to Reuben Helfrich in 1872. Helfrich operated the mill until his death in 1890, and during this time, it became known as the Helfrich Mill.

Reuben Helfrich's son, Thomas, was born in 1847 and assisted his father in the operation of the mill. In 1891, Thomas purchased full interest in the property from the other heirs and continued the milling business.

Other trade names associated with the old mill are Barrall & Helfrich and Kistler & Helfrich. At the time they were in business, it was also known as Spring Mills.

Remaining unmarried, Thomas Helfrich resided in the former Grim house. He sold the mill and Grim house to his nieces and nephews in 1929. This was the end of continuous full-time operation of the grist mill. They kept the property until 1942, when it was sold jointly to William Allender, Harold Fritchman and William Rinkenbach.

The Helfrich Springs Grist Mill sacrificed its tons of steel and iron machinery to be used for munitions for World War II. Heavy shafts and metal gears, weighing 15-20 tons, were stripped from the building in the war effort.

Allender and Fritchman had difficulty removing the gigantic pieces of mill machinery from its foundations, described as being "put in to stay." They used the mill's three wooden derricks and a worm jack to hoist half-ton steel shafts and grinding stones.

The building sat vacant and neglected for many years. Whitehall Township purchased the grist mill for storage purposes in 1963. The mill became the target of a restoration campaign in 1975 by the Whitehall Environmental Group. Through the efforts of this group, the Helfrich Springs Grist Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 1977.

The Whitehall Historical Preservation Society, founded in June 1984, took over where the original organization left off. At that time, the interior of the mill appeared in shambles after years of neglect, but was structurally sound.

Today, after years of hard work and fund raising, this group has restored the structure, replaced windows, doors, roof, electric wiring, and repointed the stone walls. The building will remain a part of Whitehall's heritage for future generations to enjoy.