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
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
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.