NORWAY — A 1.5-ton millstone that was dug out of Steep Falls near Lower Main Street has been moved for display at the Norway Historical Society headquarters on Main Street.
The granite stone measures 54 inches in diameter and 16 inches thick.
The millstone is believed to have been used at a paper mill to grind wood pulp in the 1800s. It was found in the 1960s by Ron Somers, a former Norway resident. He explored the Steep Falls area as a teenager and saw the stone, Historical Society member Susan Denison said.
Steep Falls is on the property of the former Central Maine Power generator plant across Lower Main Street and down the steep hill from Aubuchon Hardware.
“Sometime much more recently when he was here for a visit, he apparently went down to Steep Falls and saw the stone buried to ground level and could see where snowplows had chipped at the top edge,” Denison said. “He recognized the importance of trying to save it and got word to the society about where it was. At that time in September, we had no idea how huge it was.”
Denison said the current property owner, KEI Power Management, gave the Historical Society permission to remove it.
Early on Friday morning, a crew from the Norway Highway Department brought it to the society building. Department employees volunteered their time to dig it up last month and stored it at the Highway Department garage until it could be moved permanently.
Exactly how old the millstone is and what it was used for can only be surmised at this point, Denison said.
“We'll never really know," she said.
Denison said there are no other abandoned millstones in Norway that the society is aware of.
“I'm sure there are some, but they are either unrecognized, completely buried or broken. I expect there are more around Steep Falls and possibly along Pennesseewassee Stream, Tannery Brook and the outlet of the lake, because that's where the mills were before electricity,” she said.
What is known is that the location where the millstone was found indicates to society members that it may have been used at a paper mill to grind wood pulp.
“The size of it seems excessively large for grinding crops into flour or meal, but that's just an assumption on my part,” Denison said.
Two different papers mills operated in the same building in Steeps Falls, according to the 1986 book, "Bound By Memories' Ties," by the Rev. Don McAllister. Denison said the book states that the second mill owner put in stone grinders in 1868 and ceased making paper in 1873. The mills were on the north side of the falls and extended from Lower Main Street down the hill to about where the stone was, Denison said.
She said the area around Steep Falls was home to many mills since very early in Norway’s history, due to the ample water power provided by the falls. The first mill beside the falls was built in the early 1800s and the last one closed in the 1930s.
According to a book titled "Millstones, An Introduction," with notes by Charles Howell, the granite from well-known quarries at Westerly, R.I., and and from quarries in New Hampshire provided many of the stones used in New England mills.
One of the largest collections of millstones in New England is at Millstone Manor, a private house in Shore Road in Ogunquit, according to the book. There are said to be more than 70 millstones that were used for grain grinding and other industrial processes. The size of the millstones vary from less than 2 feet and up to 7 feet in diameter. They vary from 8 to 30 inches in thickness and the largest weighs more than 3,500 pounds.