HISTORY OF THE MILL
The Old Schwamb Mill is located on the oldest continuously-operating mill site in the United States. The historic Old Schwamb Mill site itself survives as a continuously operating site where, for more than three hundred years, immigrant Puritan, Yankee, and German entrepreneurs harnessed the free water power of a narrow, fast moving brook to run machines and develop a series of family-owned businesses. The Mill’s story is as compelling as the beauty of the frames still produced here today.
On April 19, 1775, the first day of the American Revolution, Paul Revere and the British regulars all passed at a distance of about 200 yards from the Mill at the what is marked in today’s Arlington Height neighborhood as the “Foot of the Rocks” on their way to Lexington and Concord. The British returned by the same route, fighting their way through the town which was then called Menotomy on their way back to Charlestown.
The Old Schwamb Mill’s interior is one of the most significant in the country, not only as a 19th-century workplace but also as a telling record of six German immigrant entrepreneurs who left their family’s Rhine Hessen farm and mill to seek their fortune in the New World.
The Schwambs became passionate Americans. Whether manufacturing piano casings, architectural woodwork, or picture frame mouldings, they established three flourishing woodworking enterprises on the Mill Brook, served in public office, and contributed generously to the cultural life of their new home. Charles Schwamb contributed the first music books to the local public school system. His son Carl was the organist at the Follen Unitarian Church in East Lexington (a mile away), and grandson Clinton was the organist at the First Baptist Church in Arlington Center.
POWERING THE MILL
The English Puritans who settled in Cambridge in 1630 brought with them from England the waterpower mill technology that took hold on New England streams.
Mill Brook, running to the Mystic Lakes from the Great Meadow in Lexington, was the focus of Arlington’s early industry. The stream drops more than one hundred sixty feet in two and a half miles, and its steady flow powered mills of various kinds. The earliest water-powered grist mill within the limits of colonial Cambridge was established in 1637, and the second soon after.
Waterpower mill technology was implemented on Mill Brook in Arlington for almost 250 years. A mile and a half upstream, the third watermill power system of pond, dam, mill, and mill race was laid out c.1684.
Steam power was introduced in at the Mill in 1872.
All the machines used for woodworking are connected by overhead shafting, leather belts, and pulleys through which energy is transferred from ceiling-mounted motors that in 1954 replaced first supplementing water power and soon replacing it.