Barnitz Mill is the centerpiece of Stuart Park in Dickinson Township. The mill has a long and dynamic history beginning in the 18th century with the Weakley family. The Weakleys were prominent Cumberland County landowners and citizens in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They owned large amounts of land which included the land where Barnitz Mill now stands. James Weakley operated several mills on the site including a fulling mill, a grist mill and a sawmill. It is believed that the original mills were situated across the Yellow Breeches Creek from where the current mill is located. In 1772 son Robert inherited the fulling mill and the grist and sawmill went to sons John and Daniel. John eventually became the sole owner of the mill businesses. In 1834, he sold the business to Ulysses G. Barnitz.
The Barnitz family operated the mills well into the 20th century. The business also included a clover mill, a cooper’s mill, and a cider press and at one point and a distillery. It is likely that the current mill building was built by Barnitz c.1840. Barnitz moved the mill business to the south side of the creek. At various times during both the Weakley and Barnitz ownership the business was leased to other millers who then operated the mills The original miller’s house was log and located near the mill. The current brick residence was built by Barnitz across what is now Barnitz Rd. from the mill.
Preservation of significant historic structures is an ongoing issue for property owners and depends upon a plan for funding major repairs as well as maintenance. It appeared that the preservation of Barnitz Mill was assured when funds from a grant from the G. B. Stuart Foundation provided for the restoration and stabilization of the building in 1999. However, preservation is never achieved in perpetuity without a plan and every new generation faces the need to renew preservation efforts. Now more than 20 years later, the structure is again in deteriorating condition. Of particular concern are the stone walls on the lowest lever of the mill, which will need to be stabilized before any additional restoration can proceed.
A Friends of Barnitz Mill (FOBM) group has formed to work with the Township and community to determine what appropriate use might be for the building and put a plan together to restore and maintain it for that purpose. The building location in Stuart Park which is owned and maintained by the Township makes it an ideal gathering place for park users, including those interested in nature observation along the trails in the park, people interested in fishing and recreating on the Yellow Breeches Creek, and those who live in the area looking for a gathering place to enjoy music or other community activities in a rural, natural setting. If the building were able to accommodate some modest commercial use, it would help with funding the upkeep of the structure.
Stuart Park has seen recent improvements including the restoration of the stream banks to prevent erosion and enhance trout and other aquatic life habitat. Native plants are being established and reforestation is occurring along the paths and invasive species are being removed. Restrooms were recently installed next to the mill structure. Improvement of the mill for public or commercial use will build upon these prior investments in a public space that is essential to the sense of place in Dickinson Township for current and future generations.
To join the efforts of FOBM, and have input into the future of the mill, please send an email firstname.lastname@example.org and look for the FOBM table at the Fall Harvest Fest, currently being planned at Stuart Park with the Dickinson Township Parks and Recreation Committee.