The Jerusalem Mill, built between 1769 and 1772 by miller David Lee and millwright Isaiah Linton, is the oldest and most impressive of Harford County’s extant historic mills. While over 300 mill sites have been identified in the county, only a handful survive. Jerusalem Mill is also important as the centerpiece for one of the most complete mill villages in Maryland, and the only remaining example of an industrial complex within the Little Gunpowder Falls, which was among the state’s most prominent areas of early industrialization. Its founder, David Lee, was a Quaker who migrated to this area from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where a culture of milling was already well ensconced. By 1814, the mill site had grown to include a saw mill, blacksmith and coopers shops, miller’s house, mill workers’ houses, general store, post office, and other support structures.
Lee’s mill village reflected the transformation that was occurring at the hands of early entrepreneurs during the Industrial Revolution. Numerous merchant mills were established in this area to take advantage of the growing flour export trade through the port of Baltimore as well as the rise of grain production then replacing tobacco in importance as an agricultural commodity. Lee settled here from Pennsylvania, intentionally selecting a site along river with ample power to support milling operations; others followed suit for the same reason. Thus the Gunpowder River featured prominently in the development of the state, fostering many other industrial operations beyond milling that were also dependent on water power. The Jerusalem complex also represents an early example of vertical integration whereby Lee’s operations included a tenant farmer who, along with many of his neighbors, raised grain that was ground in the mill, and then packed in barrels made on site through the sawmill and coopers shop for transport to distant markets.
Located at the Fall Line of the Little Gunpowder Falls, Jerusalem is an elegant and impressive example of the once numerous mill buildings of this region. It is a massive, three-story, heavy timber frame structure, measuring sixty by thirty-six feet and set on a high rubble stone basement two to three feet thick and banked into the hillside. The frame exterior is covered by board-and-batten siding and the steeply pitched gable roof enabled a unique feature: two levels of dormer windows. A date stone located near the north entrance is inscribed “1772 – David Lee” and is surrounded by dressed stone. While the exterior remains intact, much of the interior framing and extant equipment date to the nineteenth century. Still extant are the two-foot-square white oak posts supporting the corners of the building at each level, large oak beams, and chamfered posts held by mortise-and-tenon joints pegged with large treenails. In addition to flour milling, barrel-making, and blacksmithing, Lee manufactured gun stocks for the Maryland militia in a small stone building adjoining the mill.
Interestingly, Lee was a cousin to the Ellicott brothers, who founded the premier Maryland mill town at Ellicott Mills (later Ellicott City) at about the same time. In fact, Lee traveled together with the Ellicotts to explore areas in Maryland conducive to the establishment of mill sites. Prior to establishing Jerusalem Mill, Lee apprenticed as a millwright. As a progressive agriculturalist, Lee convinced his neighbors of the value of grain over tobacco production and was among the first in the area to introduce fertilizers such as lime to replenish the soil. In 1816, the mill property passed to his son Ralph S. Lee, who produced cornmeal and flour. His son, David Lee II, took over in 1862, diversifying operations to reintroduce a saw mill, as well as a cider press and various retail operations. The mill property remained in the Lee family until 1886, continuing to operate under water power into the twentieth century. It ceased operations in 1961 with the death of its last miller, John Bridges.
Abandoned for years, it was later restored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as a public living history museum. The Historic Jerusalem Mill Village, part of Gunpowder Falls State Park, provides a rare opportunity to view and understand the workings of a self-sufficient mill village. In addition to the Jerusalem Mill, the twelve other extant buildings include the stone miller’s house/gun shop, blacksmith shop, bank barn, tenant house, store, and other support structures. The Miller’s House is a small two-story, two-bay, rubble stone structure with a large exterior stone chimney. The early-nineteenth-century blacksmith shop is a one-and-a-half-story structure of rubble stone that includes quoining at the corners. Lee’s two-and-a-half-story stone mansion and the house built for his tenant farmer are also still standing just outside of the village proper.
Hnedak, John, “Jerusalem Mill (and Associated Structures),” Harford County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, (undated). National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
McGrain, John W. Grist Mills in Baltimore County. Baltimore County, Maryland: A Baltimore County Heritage Publication, 1980.
Penrod, Paul L., “Jerusalem Mill and Outbuildings,” Harford County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1976. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Weeks, Christopher et al. An Architectural History of Harford County, Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
Weeks, Christopher et al. “Jerusalem Mill Village,” Harford County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1986. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.