Transcripts

The Return of Peirce Mill

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Well, Arlington National Cemetery is one of the area's best known landmarks. We head now to another local landmark that's perhaps a little less known, though for nearly 200 years, it was a vital part of life here in D.C. Up until 1958, the Peirce Mill brought fresh wheat and corn flour to government workers, the White House and other Washingtonians. But for years now, it's just sat that in Rock Creek Park, empty and silent until now.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:31
It took nearly 100 people coming together and just about $3 million worth of funding, but the mill stones are turning again. Emily Friedman brings us this story on the historic buildings grand reopening.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

00:00:44
Washington, D.C. was a very different place back in the 1800s where there are stores and homes right now, there used to be farms. And if you look at where our green spaces are along the rivers and creeks, that's where industry was. Along Rock Creek, it was one mill after another. The mills made paper, wool, fertilizer, flour and many of them were owned by the Peirce family.

MR. STEVE DRYDEN

00:01:06
The Peirces were Quakers from Pennsylvania. They came down here right after the revolution and they bought land along Rock Creek. They basically owned everything that now is Rock Creek Park.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:15
This is Steve Dryden.

DRYDEN

00:01:17
I'm the Program Manager for the Friends at Peirce Mill.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:20
Dryden is the sole employee of the non-profit and recently published a book on the mill's place in D.C. history. In its hay day, he says, this was a four-story flour making mansion. Gears in the basement turned the stones which grind the grain which is carried upstairs by little buckets on a conveyer belt where it's sifted, cooled and shot back downstairs to the basement where it's bagged for people to buy.

DRYDEN

00:01:43
The way this is set up, it takes it all by automation but it's all still water power. And this was a big, big deal.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:49
Peirce Mill, he says, was incredibly industrious. It could produce hundreds of pounds of flour an hour.

DRYDEN

00:01:55
And then there would be this mist in the air of flour, obviously, and it was covering everybody and everything.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:01
The original mill lasted about 70 years. It broke down around the turn of the century and was leased out as a tea house. Then in the 1930s, Peirce Mill became one of the first historical restoration projects in the country. President Roosevelt's New Deal put men to work restoring the mill to its full flour making potential. Legend has it, during that time Peirce Mill flour was baked into the bread of congressmen, senators, even the President.

DRYDEN

00:02:28
But, you know, all of that is antidotal so take it with a grain of salt or flour.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:34
In the early '90s, the mill broke down again, that's when local historians banded together to form The Friends of Peirce Mill. They raised a million dollars in private donations and received $2 million from President Obama's stimulus plan. Now, $3 million sounds like a lot, but for a mill this complex and this old, that was just enough to cover the basics.

DRYDEN

00:02:55
What we've got here that's working now are the stones, of course, the gears, the water wheel, everything you need to make flour. I don't know if -- can you get this -- and let that make -- I'm just rubbing the raw wheat that has been ground here. There's still some of it, still on the stone.

MR. MASON MADDOX

00:03:15
My name is Mason Maddox Junior. I'm a hired miller that's working on this mill today.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:21
Maddox checks on the mill grinding corn and tops off the hopper holding the grain. From there, the kernels trickle down in between the stones to be ground.

MADDOX

00:03:29
We don't realize what it took to get a loaf of bread in the 1800s. But it took a farmer to grow the grain, it took the miller to mill the grain and then it took a baker to bake the loaf of bread. You just didn't run out to Giant Food and pick up a loaf of bread.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:45
This lack of knowledge of what goes into the food we eat is exactly what Steve Dryden and the National Park Service hope to change. Within a few months, students from D.C. Elementary schools will be bused to the mill to learn that lesson themselves.

DRYDEN

00:03:58
This is the kind of place that made the original whole wheat and people used to eat it because it was the cheapest bread, of course, you know, white bread became popular and that's more refined but this is part of education about why whole grains are good for you.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:10
Dryden runs his hand through the deep well of corn flour. Rock Creek Park hasn't secured a permit yet to sell the flour, but that hasn't stopped Dryden from testing it out.

DRYDEN

00:04:20
And I made some corn bread with it earlier this week. I put jalapenos in it and I put some, you know, bacon and fat, too. Yeah, it's really good.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:27
After all, he waited nearly 20 years to see that bread come out of the oven. I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

00:04:34
If you want to check out Peirce Mill and what's involved in grinding the grain for a loaf of bread, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
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