The historic Excelsior Mill: a labor of love is a family legacy
Narrowsburg Logging Days offers rare tour and more
By SANDY LONG
NARROWSBURG, NY For much of his life, Brendan Weiden has been piecing together a mystery, gathering clues as a child at his father, Peters, knee, and continuing to seek understanding of the operation of a historic mill that has been owned by his family for four generations.
For the first time, tours of the recently renovated mill will be offered on Sunday, September 6, during the Narrowsburg Logging Days on September 5 and 6.
Built in 1876-77, the mill was one of approximately six that operated along the East Branch of the Ten Mile River and were important sources of settlement in the area.
Brendan, a third-generation engineer, became its owner in 2001 when he purchased it from his father and two uncles, who inherited it from their parents. In 1904, Brendans great-grandfather, Herman, and his wife, Josephine, bought the mill and property. The couple were German immigrants and upholsterers.
A century ago, there was no foam rubber in furniture; they padded it with wood shavings, said Brendan. Herman and his son Mathias ran the mill starting in 1904, but by the time Brendans father was born in 1928, it was no longer an operating business entity. Today, the mill is believed to be one-of-a-kind in the state of New York.
By the early 20s, mills that made excelsior powered by water had become obsolete, said Brendan. My familys been keeping this as a historic relic.
Brendan described the engineering marvel that he and the next generation of Weidens are working to preserve. Eight individual machines are tied onto a header beam and anchored on a sill beam. The overhead truss supports not only the machines, but also the roof. This was probably a state-of-the art industrial plant specifically made to accommodate all this, he said.
Water would enter through a large pipe and turn the turbine blades; a set of gears ran an axle system. My father used to say that when he, as a young boy, would open the giant water valve that fed into the turbine, the wheels would start to spin and the whole building would shake, rattle and roll, said Brendan. Bearings werent oil-lubricated, they were packed tightly with lead. When you started the mill, it caused great friction when they began moving. It would melt the lead, which was a fantastic lubricant. Every bearing was floating on a pool of molten lead. Then everything would fly, he explained.
Peter passed away three years ago, carrying some of the mills operational secrets with him. I look at things and try to figure out what they mean and how they used it, said Brendan. The mill was his baby. He said this was the emotional heart of the Weiden presence in this valley.
My father treated the mill like sacred ground, said Brendan. It was preserved because he knew it was what brought his grandparents here and I think his father had a great affinity for it, too. In some ways, were carrying on that family mission. Luckily, my wife Kathleen loves all of this. I wouldnt be able to do this if my wife didnt love it, too.
The project has called for a large investment of time and money. Its a continuing battle against mother nature, said Brendan. Putting the roof on was a major job. The north side of the roof was almost completely gone when we took ownership.
The couple drew upon the skills of local craftsmen like Mark Kneppen of Toad Hollow Barn Restoration, Callicoon, for the extensive post-and-beam work and Rick Maloney of Narrowsburg Electric for extensive electrical work. I cant say enough about these craftsmen up here, everybody whos helped resuscitate the mill, said Brendan.
Other craftsmen who helped restore the buildings are Kevin Freda of Kevin Freda Construction, Blair Cooper of Straitline Roofing, Forest Darden of Darden Stoneworks, Greg Stevenson Plumbing, Floyd Campfield Bluestone and Jerry Jones Painting.
Tickets for the bus tour can be purchased at Narrowsburg Roasters Coffee Shop on Main Street. The tour will also feature the Tusten Settlement Church, where participants will be treated to the lively tunes of an all-female barbershop quartet and picnic provided by Jills Kitchen of Narrowsburg. A chorus of local women will sing songs composed by Caroline Steinberg inspired by headstones in the church cemetery. The tour bus will include a scenic drive past the nearby Stone Arch Bridge. Tickets are $20 each.
Narrowsburg Logging Days
The Sullivan County Bicentennial sealed weekend-long event was organized by the Narrowsburg Chamber of Commerce, the Tusten Historical Society and Fort Delaware Museum in celebration of the many ways in which logging contributed to the history of the region. According to chamber president Jane Luchsinger, Rafting and logging sustained the area for over 160 years, from before the Revolutionary War to 1921 when the last raft went down the Delaware River.
A collection of professionally mounted historic photos depicting aspects of the industry will be on display both days at the Tusten Town Hall on Bridge Street in Narrowsburg. Luchsinger described life in the region when logging and rafting ruled. Everything started when the ice broke in the spring. They farmed all summer, logged all winter, rafted in spring then walked back up from Philadelphia.
Although those days are overwhen chainsaws didnt exist, but rather one or two-man saws, when horses dragged logs with chains to the rivers edgethe industry continues today, with transportation by land rather than water.
Events will start on Friday, September 4 with square/line dancing at Tusten Town Hall on Bridge Street at 7:30 p.m., and continue on Saturday with activities like chainsaw carving and axe throwing at Fort Delaware, presentations at the Tusten Town Hall, a take-out barbeque and a country music concert at the Tusten Theater in the evening, among other entertainment. Sunday will start off with a Lumbermans Flapjack Breakfast at the Tusten Town Hall ($6 adults, $3 children, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), the ongoing photo display and special offers like free samples of Campfire coffee at Narrowsburg Roasters, logging pencils shaped like twigs at Jeff Bank and Wondrous Woodworks at the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance gift shop.
Visit narrowsburg.org for a full schedule of events.