Grist mill's roof focus of fundraiser

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Adams Grist Mill needs immediate repairs to its roof.

In a perfect world, a new $200,000 slate roof would be great.

"It's just worn out, slates get brittle," said Marguerite Janiszyn-Lisai, a member of the Bellows Falls Historical Society, which owns the 1831 mill and museum, and until late last year had its headquarters there.

Enter Annette Spaulding of Rockingham, well known in the region for being a diver and amateur archaeologist.

Spaulding said she had relied heavily on the historical society to help her do research for her dives and to help identify the things she has found underwater, particularly in the Connecticut River.

Spaulding organized a well-attended fundraiser last Thursday at the Bellows Falls Opera House to help raise money for the Adams Grist Mill as a thank you to the society and its members and to raise awareness of the rich archaeological history in the Connecticut River Valley.

There was a silent auction, a 50-50 drawing, and more than 200 people turned out to see an unusual collection of Native American articles and to see a video of Spaulding's latest underwater videos exploring the history of the Connecticut River from Bellows Falls to Westminster Station.

Gail Golec of Walpole, N.H., a local anthropologist and archaeologist, gave a short lecture about the ancient history of the region, and how the ancient geologic actions affected not just the history of the region's Native peoples, but also after white settlers came to the area in the mid-1700s.

Spaulding said without the help of the local historical society - and other historical societies - her work would have been that much harder.

Spaulding, with her extensive network of friends, also convinced Gordon Crandall, a former Springfield resident now living in White River Junction, to put his extensive collection of Native American artifacts on display during the fundraiser, some for the first time in 30 years, and some for the first time ever.

Crandall, now 91, had hunted for artifacts with his parents as a child growing up in Randolph, and then took his own children (now grown) on similar trips.

Crandall said his father, Maurice Charles Crandall, would look for artifacts. "I got started by my father when I was 10 years old," he said, looking for arrowheads and other tools.

Crandall said that only about half his collection of artifacts, most of which are from the Vermont-New Hampshire area, was on display Thursday evening. People could get a close-up view of everything from stone knives to tiny arrowheads. There were also Native American artifacts from the Mid-West, and other parts of the country.

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To Crandall, the set of 11 stone knives he found on the banks of the Connecticut River near the Cheshire Toll Bridge in Springfield is the most significant part of his collection.

He said the knives were likely part of a burial, and he said the number of the chert knives, and their beauty, was a clear sign that they belonged to an important person.

He said the knives were likely 5,000 years old.

Crandall's son Rodney said he believes his father's collection will end up at a local museum, which he didn't want to name just yet.

"He and Annette talk almost every week, talking back and forth, and he's actually going to sites with her," his son said, adding that his father knew about sites that he hadn't shared with anyone.

Spaulding's underwater adventures in the summer of 2019 uncovered everything from two safes that likely were dumped in the river near the Westminster Station bridge after robberies more than 100 years ago. There was no money in the empty safes, Spaulding said.

Closer to Bellows Falls, and the Adams Grist Mill, Spaulding said she believes were the piers of a long-forgotten steamboat dock, which served steamboats that came up the Connecticut River before the advent of trains. The piers were located very close to the grist mill, she said, likely at the end of the locks which lead to the Bellows Falls Canal that went around the falls.

Spaulding's underwater videos also showed how much cleaner and clearer the river was, and that large bass, perch and carp populate its depths.

Janiszyn-Lisai said The 12 Tribes Community in Westminster, a religious group living at the Basin Farm, had been volunteering to help patch the immediate holes in the roof. With the Tribes' lift, it was able to put in some metal repairs to keep water from entering the grist mill and damaging the historical society's collection of machinery and farm equipment, she said. The 1831 mill closed its doors in 1961, and the historical society became its owner in 1965.

The museum is full of 19th century tools, and is still largely an intact 19th century grist mill, with its large multi-story wooden grain bins or hoppers.

"We have tons of stuff still in the museum," said Janiszyn-Lisai, noting the leak had been letting some water into the building, and dripping into the wooden hoppers.

In addition to Spaulding's fundraiser, Janiszyn-Lisai said the historical society was looking at applying for grants to either repair the roof or replace it.

"The slate is in rough shape, it's over 100 years old," she said.

.Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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