Lightfoot Mill (Mill at Anselma)

Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Lightfoot Mill (Mill at Anselma)

Originally built circa 1747, this working mill in Chester Springs, Chester County, is a rare example of a small 18th-century custom grain mill with its power transmission system completely intact. The basic technology of Lightfoot Mill was adapted over the years to improve efficiency, although much of the original mechanism has been retained. Today, these subsequent limited upgrades illustrate the early stages of change in the milling industry.

Several innovations in automation by Oliver Evans (1755-1819), a prolific inventor from Delaware, were added by a later owner in the 1820s, increasing the mill’s production. As one of the only surviving examples of a grain mill with pre-Evans technology, Lightfoot with its subsequent upgrades provides a unique opportunity to observe how Evans’ advances revolutionized the industry, capturing a pivotal moment of transition as the traditional system was supplanted by industrialization and automation.

Following the American Revolution, Philadelphia became the national leader in the flour trade. Grain was milled in volume and a great quantity of flour was produced for both domestic and export sales. Custom mills, such as Lightfoot, followed the European feudal economic system that served the local farmers individually by milling their grain for them and collecting profits in milled product, as opposed to larger merchant mills owned by wealthy entrepreneurs who bought the grain from farmers, then milled and sold the product themselves. With the growth of the American grain trade in the 19th century, small custom mills became obsolete and were either upgraded and expanded or completely rebuilt as merchant mills. The Lightfoot Mill was unique because it continued to serve the community in its original form by operating as a small-scale merchant mill, expanding its production to include feed grain for livestock at farms in the region.

Lightfoot Mill at Anselma

Lightfoot Mill. PHMC/Bureau for Historic Preservation

In the 1980s the mill was purchased by a preservation trust. The group undertook an extensive restoration project to make sensitive repairs to the nearly 250-year-old building and machinery. While technically still working, the mill actually had not been in operation for 50 years. Conservation experts and craftsmen familiar with historic preservation were enlisted to painstakingly refurbish the mill. Repairs to original components were made when possible. If replacement was necessary, new parts were carefully replicated. The goal was to restore the resource to a functioning mill and use it as a hands-on educational venue.

Today, the mill is open to the public as the Mill at Anselma. It is supported by a team of dedicated volunteers and offers tours, lectures and special events. Stone-ground flour and goods are available for sale. Proceeds support the site’s programs and operations. The mill achieved National Historic Landmark status in 2005 and a Pennsylvania Historical Marker in 2007.


Karen Galle is on the staff of PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office and has been the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program since 2005.