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Prepared by Pernilla Holmes and Sabina Wiedenhoeft, under the direction of Cynthia R. Field, Ph.D., for the Smithsonian's Office of Architectural History and Historic Preservation.
The Columbia Mills, sometimes referred to as Adam's Mills because of their ownership by John Quincy Adams, were likely constructed between 1793 and 1800. At approximately the same time, the federal city of Washington DC was founded. Being water powered mills, they were built along Rock Creek, just above Georgetown, in an area that is now owned by the National Zoological Park. Historical maps locate two mill buildings. The smaller was used for the production of plaster of Paris. The larger and more prolific was a grist mill that ground wheat into flour and corn into corn meal.
The history of the construction of the Columbia Mills and their operation in many ways reflects the history of Washington itself. They were allegedly built by one of the city's nineteen original proprietors, Benjamin Stoddert. The owner subsequent from 1803-1809, Jonathan Shoemaker was a miller who later managed Thomas Jefferson's mills. The following buyer was the businessman Roger Johnson, brother of Thomas Johnson, the first governor of Maryland. Under his ownership between 1809-23, the mills were managed by his son George Johnson, who appears to have reconstructed the grist mill in 1812. George continued management of the mills for several years after they were purchased by his cousin's husband, John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States. Adams purchased the mills in 1823, just one year before he became President. He was burdened by their unstable operating regime from the time of purchase to the end of his life. The water flow of Rock Creek was easily affected by weather and seasonal changes. The turning rate of the water wheels, which powered the mills, varied drastically according to weather conditions that changed from flooding to drought. The mills had a checkered and ultimately unsuccessful history.
The Columbia Mills nonetheless reflect an important period of industrial innovation in milling. The system of continuous automation in grist mills was invented in the United States by Oliver Evans in 1787. If Stoddert had incorporated the Evans innovations in 1795, he would have been among the first of millers to realize their value. George Johnson constructed a new , Evans automated, grist mill in 1812 at the site. These mills thus illustrate the growth of milling as an industry in the United States. They are also exemplary of difficulties encountered by those who inhabited the District of Columbia in the years following President George Washington's vision and proclamation of the new federal city.
Many oral narratives have been created throughout the years regarding the Columbia Mills operation, their famous owners, and the issue of slavery. Few of these narratives were supported by factual research. Mills generally required few people to run them, both before, and especially after, the Evans innovations. It is noteworthy then, that the use of slaves within the mills was not encountered in any of the research completed for this paper.
In approximately 1785, Oliver Evans completed, tested and marketed his inventions of the automatic hopper boy and elevators. ¹ His inventions cut the labor necessary to operate a mill from several men or boys, to the possibility of one person working the mill in full operation. Furthermore, this one person could produce a better grade of flour with less clean-up at the end of the day. ²
A typical Mill building had between two and five floors. The old process of manufacture required one person to do the laborious task of carrying the grain up and down the ladder-like stairs, while others minded the operation of the machinery, and afterwards carried the refined product to the upper floors for storage. ³ Mills were generally custom built by the owner and his millwright; ⁴ thus many had already searched for ways of lessening their work load, especially in England. ⁵ In the United States, Quakers had their own family-run methods that made them prosperous millers. ⁶ Nonetheless, milling remained a machine assisted manual operation requiring several workmen to function.
Evans was the first to conceptualize the fully integrated automatic mill that allowed for a continuous manufacturing process. ⁷ The grinding of grain in a grist mill required getting the raw product up to the hopper where, in order to ensure an even grinding, it had to be evenly distributed. From there it made its way to the grinding stones which were powered by the movement of the shaft connected to the water wheel. The bottom stone was stationary while the top moved to grind the wheat, which afterwards had to be cooled, sorted, sifted and packaged. In larger mills the barrels often had to be carried to the upper floors for storage. The Evans improvements worked in the following way:
The elevators could then be used to carry the packaged product to the upper floors. Thus Evans had turned the milling procedure into a series of mechanized movements.
Evans kept his experiments secret. Once finalized, he placed a strict state patent on each design, on January 30, 1787. Millwrights thereupon had to pay a license fee to Evans if they wished to integrate his devices. ⁹
Initially people were not receptive to Evans' inventions. He sent his brother to Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland to offer a free license to the first miller in each county to incorporate his improvements. ¹⁰ His federal patent was approved in 1790. In the process of being passed it came under the scrutiny of, and was signed by, both Thomas Jefferson and President George Washington. By 1792, George Washington had purchased a license for his own mill at Mt. Vernon, and over a hundred other mills had adopted the Evans machinery. ¹¹
There were two ways of operating a mill business. One was to operate as a toll mill, whereby farmers brought their grains, paid a fee to have them ground, and left with the refined product. Alternatively, a merchant miller bought grains (generally in large volumes) himself, ground them, and then sold the final product locally, nationally, or internationally, depending on his inclination and success. ¹² The latter generally dealt in higher volumes and though the possibility of profit was far greater, so too were the risks. The miller in this case had to speculate on market values and needs, and if he calculated wrongly risked selling too soon for too little or being left with surplus goods. ¹³
DEED: George Beall sold 863 1/2 acres of land to Benjamin Stoddert, comprising the patents "The Rock of Dumbarton," "Addition of Rock of Dumbarton," and "Beall's Lot." Stoddert paid 6,908 pounds for the property on January 30, 1793. ¹⁴
Born in 1751 in Maryland, Benjamin Stoddert was in 1779 elected the secretary of the Board of War, where he served until February of 1781. He married in 1781 and began a successful mercantile business in Georgetown. ¹⁵ According to the Historical American Building Survey (HABS) Report on Halcyon House (Stoddert's main residence), Stoddert became the first president of the Bank of Columbia, founded in 1794. The report states that "Stoddert's duties with the Board of Trade brought him into close contact with John Adams, then serving as President of the Board. When Adams became President, Stoddert was appointed the first Secretary of the Navy in 1798." ¹⁶ In the late years of the 18th century President George Washington made plans for the formation of a new Federal City. Not having government funds available, he approached wealthy citizens and requested that they purchase vast tracts of land which would later be amalgamated into Washington DC. ¹⁷ Stoddert purchased several large tracts of land in and around the site of the new city, thus becoming one of its nineteen original proprietors. ¹⁸ One of the land tracts Stoddert purchased in 1793 was the 863 1/2 acres of land from Beall, now comprising a large portion of Montgomery County. On one portion of this land, called Pretty Prospect, the Columbia Mills were built.
Land speculation in Washington at this time turned out to be a poor investment. In a letter to his lawyer, Stoddert discussed potential values of land parcels in the Washington area and lamented his accumulated debts and lack of financial return. ¹⁹ Despite his financial loss, he donated approximately half of his land holdings in the Washington DC area to the new federal city. When Adams' presidency ended, Stoddert retired. He passed away in debt on December 17, 1813. ²⁰
According to tradition, it was Stoddert who built the Columbia Mills on the site of land called Pretty Prospect, some time between 1793-1800. ²¹ This history is given credibility by a personal letter of 1799 in which Stoddert's wife Rebecca lamented that the lack of rain in DC had caused their mill to stop grinding for the summer. ²² Rock Creek, which was the source of the mills' power, was far more vulnerable to drought than a larger body of water such as the Potomac River. There were probably two mills built -one for flour and one for plaster of paris, as later maps show two mill buildings. None of the subsequent owners referred to the construction of a plaster mill. However, they discussed production of both a plaster and grist mill, implying both were already in existence. ²³ Furthermore, the 1803 deed to Jonathan Shoemaker refers to "mills" the plural, implying there were more than one mill.
Likely in hope of profit, Stoddert in 1800 divided up his land tracts into various parcels, selling to different buyers. Pretty Prospect, including the Columbia Mills, was reduced to 42 1/2 acres and sold to Walter Mackall. The land transfer deed lists "all and singular the buildings, improvements, privileges, advantages and appurtenances to the said part of a Tract of Land." ²⁴ When Stoddert had purchased the land, no mention was made of any buildings or improvements. Therefore, the addition of having buildings etc. written into the later deed further indicates that Stoddert had the mills built.
The HABS report and census records of this period place Stoddert's primary residence at Halcyon House in Georgetown. It seems unlikely that he would have built a secondary residence so close to his permanent home. Furthermore, it stands to reason that he constructed mill buildings near his mercantile business in Georgetown. Thus, Stoddert's mills and the Columbia Mills appear to be one and the same.
If Stoddert built the mills, he did so in just the time period that Evans' inventions were gaining popularity. During the later years of the 18th century, the demand for flour in England increased as a result of the Industrial Revolution, providing a new market for American merchants. The population of Washington was also promising to grow, thereby creating larger local markets. George Washington rebuilt his mills at Mt. Vernon, using the Evans innovations, running a very successful and profitable wheat and corn milling operation. ²⁵ Since Stoddert and Washington knew each other from their land transactions, Stoddert might also have been acquainted with Washington's mills and their success. It is unclear, however, if Stoddert's mill incorporated the new innovations or used the more traditional method. ²⁶
DEED: Land was transferred from Benjamin Stoddert to Walter Mackall on December 1, 1800. 42 1/2 acres of land "Being part of a tract or parcel of land called Pretty Prospect ...lying in the east side of Rock Creek...". ²⁷
Very little is known about Walter Mackall. He resided in Calvert County, Maryland and was a wealthy land holder in Maryland and Washington, DC. He was a friend of Benjamin Stoddert, and after Stoddert's death lived for a short time at Halcyon House, managing Stoddert's affairs. ²⁸
DEED: Jonathan Shoemaker purchased the 42 1/2 acre lot, Pretty Prospect, from Walter Mackall on January 2, 1804. He paid $5,800 upon transfer of deed but maintained a mortgage until 1809, then paying an additional $3,800. The deed lists "land together with all and singular the mills, mill seats, way waters, buildings, improvements, privileges." ²⁹ Shoemaker owned the property for five years.
Jonathan Shoemaker was born in 1756 in Cheltenham County, Pennsylvania. The Shoemakers were a well-known Quaker family, as demonstrated by the naming of the small town, Shoemakerville, in Northumberland County. ³⁰ Jonathan lived for some years in this county, and in 1779 married Hannah Lukens, a fellow Quaker. He held several different positions during this time, including manager of the Philadelphia Hospital, justice of the peace and, in 1790, member and signer of the first Constitutional Convention of Pennsylvania. ³¹ Around 1803 Shoemaker moved to Washington DC and purchased the Columbia Mills at the close of 1803. ³²
Quakers were renowned for successful family-run mill operations. ³³ Jonathan's grandmother had entered into an agreement to erect a corn-grist, water mill on her land in 1741, shortly after her husband's death. ³⁴ The mill became known as Shoemaker's Mill, and remained in the Shoemaker family for over one hundred years. Quaker families generally maintained close ties, and it seems very likely that Jonathan was well-acquainted with this family mill. ³⁵
Columbia Mills clearly existed previous to Shoemaker's purchase of the property. Whether Jonathan ran the Columbia Mills as a toll or merchant mill has not been determined. Though Quakers initially resisted the Evans innovations, by 1804 they were so widely in use, that Jonathan Shoemaker may have employed them at his mills.
From 1806 on, Shoemaker was also affiliated with Thomas Jefferson's Shadwell Mills, a merchant-operated and fully Evans-innovated mill. Correspondence between Jefferson and Shoemaker reveals that Jefferson considered Shoemaker to be a good miller and trusted him, indicating that Shoemaker was experienced in a merchant operation. ³⁶ When Jefferson built his grist mills at Shadwell in 1806, the first tenants to lease them were Jonathan and his son Isaac Shoemaker. ³⁷ The lease contract, commencing at the beginning of 1807, was made for five years at $1250.00 per year. ³⁸ Correspondence concerning the arrangement began early in 1806, approximately two years after Jonathan took possession of the Columbia Mills. Most likely Shoemaker entered into the contract for the employment of his son, Isaac, since he himself was obligated to the Columbia Mills. Since Shoemaker's finances required him to maintain a mortgage on the mill property, he may also have sought to improve his family's finances by having his son operate another mill. In any case, it is unlikely that he possessed the capital for any large investments, such as building a new mill or large residence. ³⁹
Letters between Jefferson and Shoemaker reveal that initially Jonathan remained at the Columbia Mills with his wife Hannah, while his son, Isaac, moved to Virginia to operate the Shadwell Mills. ⁴⁰ Isaac proved an unreliable miller, and Jefferson urged Jonathan to come down to Shadwell to put things in order and operate the mills himself. "What I hear from my neighbors induces me to write this letter to you and to press your coming on...They
DEED: Jonathan Shoemaker deeded a small parcel (less than one acre) of Pretty Prospect to Samuel Lukens, Samuel Snowden, Roger Brook, Joseph Schoolfield, William Thomas, and Samuel Hutchinson of the Society of Friends for use as a Quaker cemetery, recorded January 2, 1808. "Hereby granted and conveyed for the purpose of being used and occupied at all times hereafter as common burying ground or place of interment for the Society of Friends or Quakers their families and descendants." ⁴³
Jonathan Shoemaker remained at the Columbia Mills for another two years. During this time Jefferson received letters warning him that people did not trust Isaac Shoemaker, and Jefferson's daughter Martha wrote to her father that she feared he had been deceived by the Shoemakers ⁴⁴ since the Shoemakers did not pay their rent, and the flour was of poor quality. Jefferson nonetheless corresponded with friendly leniency to Jonathan, disparaging only of Isaac's performance. ⁴⁵ In July of 1809, Jonathan sold Pretty Prospect to Roger Johnson, and moved to Shadwell to help run Jefferson's mills. The problems, however, continued even after Jonathan's arrival, and finally in 1811 the Shoemakers were encouraged to break their lease a year early. ⁴⁶ In the end, Jefferson's mill proved to be almost as precarious as that of the Columbia Mills. "Jefferson's manufacturing mill cost him over $10,000.00. Because of poor management, controversies with the lessees, and the constant repairs to the mill house, the dam, and the canal, he was never able to carry it on successfully, but relying still on Jonathon." ⁴⁷
DEEDS: 1) Land transferred from Jonathan Shoemaker to Roger Johnson on July 6, 1809. 42 1/2 acres "with all and singular the buildings, improvements, privileges, advantages, and appurtenances... except however so much of said land which has heretofore been sold by the said Shoemaker for a Quaker burying ground". ⁴⁸
2) On the same day, Roger Johnson also purchased 3 additional acres from an adjacent property. This property included frontage along Rock Creek and included the dam which helped to manipulate the force of the water that powered the Columbia Mills' water wheels. Land, called "Pleasant Plains", transferred from Anthony Holmead to Roger Johnson, "containing 3 acres and 38 poles together with all and singular the improvements, woods, way waters, water courses, rights, liberties, privileges and appurtenances." ⁴⁹
Roger Johnson was born in 1749 in Calvert County, as the youngest brother of Thomas Johnson, the first Governor of Maryland. He and his three brothers Thomas, Baker, and James, later relocated to Frederick County to commence various business ventures together. ⁵⁰ One such business was the Bloomesbury Forge near the Monocacy River in Bennett's Creek. The brothers undertook the building of the iron furnace in 1774, and it was Roger who managed this property and another forge they owned on Bush Creek. ⁵¹ Success brought rapid expansion, including several properties around Sugar Loaf Mountain which supplied the furnaces with necessary firewood. ⁵² Roger settled in the region, building a mansion in the village of Urbana, where he was rumored to have held many social gatherings. When he passed away, he was buried in the family cemetery on the property. ⁵³
Roger Johnson had a large family of eleven children. Census records place him in Frederick County during 1810, 1820 and 1830, the years during which he owned Pretty Prospect and Pleasant Plains. ⁵⁴ Since no records indicate that he ever ran the Columbia Mills himself, it appears he purchased the property for use by one of his sons. By 1812, records locate his second son, George, at the mills.
George Johnson was born in 1783 in Frederick County. Family records rarely mention him in contrast to his siblings, perhaps due to financial difficulties he imposed on his family. ⁵⁵ One of his daughters later wrote that her family had operated Elden Mills which was destroyed by fire during the 1812 War. ⁵⁶ Although it is not clear if Elden and Columbia Mills were the same, records place George Johnson at the Columbia Mills by 1812, the same year his daughter placed him at Elden Mills. George Johnson then hired a millwright, Mr. Kemp, to build a top-quality mill. ⁵⁷ The need to build the new grist mill supports the theory that the existent Columbia Mills had been destroyed. Court documents do not cite any work of demolition, further lending proof that the original mills were lost by 1812, possibly by fire as George Johnson's daughter remembered.
Milling records were searched for an Elden Mills in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia without success, further supporting the probability that Elden Mills and Columbia Mills were the same. ⁵⁸
In either case, the burning of the mills is indicative of the hardships Johnson encountered in the milling business. When George Johnson hired Kemp to build a modern mill, he agreed to pay him for his services upon completion of work. Since Johnson failed to pay, Kemp in 1814 commenced a civil case against Johnson for his fee. ⁵⁹ The judge awarded Kemp full payment of $2,736.89. During the same time period, George Johnson was also entangled in a court case issued by Oliver Evans. ⁶⁰ Documents from the Kemp trial indicate that Johnson's new mill used the Evans' innovations, indicating that it was a one-to-two man operation. In addition, George Johnson was sued and lost several other cases concerning financial settlements. ⁶¹ By 1818, his financial situation was so precarious that his father conveyed the deed to a portion of Pretty Prospect and Pleasant Plains (mills portion) as equity to an appointed trustee at the Bank of Columbia, James Dunlop, Jr.
DEED: Land Transfer Deed from Roger Johnson to James Dunlop, Junior, "If said George Johnson shall fail to pay off and discharge the first and last notes and the part of the note herein before referred to amounting to sum of $28,161.55 together with interest, discounts, costs and charges thereon...it shall be lawful for said James Dunlop, Junior to set up and sell at public sale for cash or upon credit as to the said trustees." ⁶²
The Manufacturers Census of 1820 listed George Johnson at the Columbia Mills in Washington County. It states that Johnson operated with 5 milling stones, and annually processed 60,000 wheat bushels, 20,000 corn do., and 40,000 tons of plaster. ⁶³ Johnson failed to list items such as, "number of hands, market value, cost of materials annually consumed, men or women employed, capitol investments, wages paid, and expansion," ⁶⁴ suggesting a certain unwillingness to cooperate. The mills at this time fell outside of the District of Columbia boundary lines, and were therefore not described in tax records. No definitive records exist showing that George Johnson employed or owned African Americans. ⁶⁵ George Johnson and his wife Elizabeth Dunlop had seven children, three girls and four boys, so it is possible that he employed his family's help to operate the mills. ⁶⁶ This supposition is supported by the fact that the Johnson's suffered continued financial troubles.
In 1821, the Bank of Columbia placed an advertisement in the National Intelligencer for the sale of the mills. The holding was described thus:
The description of the grist mill matches what witnesses described in the Kemp vs. Johnson trial. Witnesses also stated that Johnson's contract with Kemp stipulated that millwrights were to receive $200 pay plus board. ⁶⁸ Two brick buildings for workmen were indeed built according to the advertisement. Several historic maps show two structures down river from the mills which may indicate the locations of these buildings. ⁶⁹
When the bank found a buyer for the property, George Johnson, afraid of being evicted, appealed to his cousin Louisa Catherine's husband, John Quincy Adams, for help. "George Johnson a cousin of Mrs. Adams came to request me to purchase mills in this neighborhood which have belonged to him and upon which he says he has spent near $60,000...He urged me to buy the mills for $20,000 to furnish for $10,000-$12,000 to get and keep them constantly at work." ⁷⁰
After a week's consideration, Adams agreed to purchase the property, allowing Johnson to maintain a buy-back option. Johnson was hired on as manager. ⁷¹ His management proved unsuccessful due to his inability to manage the funds properly. ⁷² By 1827, city records list George Johnson as a clerk at the First Comptrollers Office in Georgetown where we worked for his remaining years. ⁷³ George Johnson died in 1854. ⁷⁴
The other 13.75 acres of "Pretty Prospect" remained in Roger Johnson's possession until his death in 1831. On this portion of land a residence was built, later referred to as Holt House. In his will, the earliest actual document to mention the house, Roger Johnson specified that he wished his executors to "sell the house and lot of land". ⁷⁵ While he bequeathed property to his wife and all of his other children, his son George Johnson, who caused him financial troubles, was left out of the will.
DEED: Land transferred from James Dunlop, representing the Bank of Columbia, to John Quincy Adams, on August 16, 1823. "Containing 28 acres 2 Rods and 19 Perches...including 3 acres and 38 poles that Anthony Holmead conveyed to Johnson in 1809 as a part of Lamar's Outlet now called Pleasant Plains ... together with all and singular the mill houses, dwelling houses, buildings, improvements, water courses, privileges, and appurtenances erected thereon." ⁷⁶
Within months of purchasing the mills from Roger Johnson in 1823, John Quincy Adams became President of the United States. He evidently knew very little about the business before buying, but hoped that the mills would secure him some income and security in his retirement years. ⁷⁷ In order to finance the purchase, he sold $9,000 in US Bonds and mortgaged his house at 1335 F Street. ⁷⁸
Given his political obligations and plans to return to his native Quincy, Massachusetts, it seems unlikely that he ever planned to run the mills himself. ⁷⁹ As part of the purchase agreement, he hired George Johnson as mill manager. ⁸⁰ He expected George Johnson to buy back the property within a few years, thereby increasing his profits. ⁸¹
By as early as November 1823 however, Adams noted that the mills were producing less flour than expected and that there was little demand for flour anyway. He further remarked that Johnson had trouble getting the books in order. ⁸² The grist mill continued to function as a merchant mill; an operation buying wheat and corn from surrounding areas, grinding it into flour and corn meal, and selling it by the barrel, both in Washington and other cities. ⁸³ By March of 1824, 700 barrels of flour proved surplus, and there was little demand for plaster of paris or cornmeal. ⁸⁴
Adams suffered financial loss and was disillusioned by the mills. He wrote in his diary that "the first [year] has been a total and a severe disappointment; and I have no reason to expect anything better from the second." ⁸⁵ Most troubling was Johnson's mismanagement of the funds. When Adams asked Johnson to justify the accounts at the end of 1825, Johnson, having used the money to cover personal debts, was not able to satisfy Adams. ⁸⁶
It is not clear when Adams terminated his agreement with Johnson but it appears to have been between 1826-1828. In January of 1826, Johnson had approached Adams for a recommendation for a clerk's post, "to which I assured him that I should in no case recommend him." ⁸⁷ It is unclear if Johnson, who became a clerk at the Treasury Department, initially operated the mills concurrently with his new post.
By 1829, after Adams completed his term as president, his son John had taken over the management of the mills. John Adams, of feeble mental and physical health, had been an unsuccessful lawyer and personal secretary to his father. ⁸⁸ He had lived with his family at the White House until the end of his father's presidency when he relocated to a house on 16th street. Later from Quincy, Massachusetts, both parents corresponded often with their son, John. John Quincy Adams was especially concerned over the management of the mills, offering advice on market prospects, and asking for a week by week account and monthly statements of the operation. ⁸⁹ John apparently avoided his father's requests. While poor health and unpredictable weather hindered his ability to manage the mills, his father beleaguered the problem by admonishing John's inability to act decisively. ⁹⁰
These correspondences leave behind a record of the precarious nature of the milling business. Markets in the United States and Europe were in constant fluctuation, and caused much concern and occasional err in market forecasting. ⁹¹ For assistance, John Adams turned to his father's amanuensis, William Cranch Greenleaf, to help with the financial management and forecasting in 1830. ⁹² Records indicate that the partners looked to markets in Liverpool, Boston, Baltimore, and New York, as well as Washington, DC to sell their product. ⁹³
Production was dependent on Rock Creek, which was in turn much effected by seasonal fluctuations. "The snow is falling very heavily today, the River has been closed upwards of a fortnight. It will therefore not be possible to send the flour until winter breaks up." ⁹⁴ Inclement weather often meant that production stopped in the winter.
Adams kept a warehouse in Georgetown to store flour, while speculating on better market prices. John Adams was able to secure a meager profit during the years 1829-34. ⁹⁵ At age 31 however, John Adams' frail health failed, and he died on October 23, 1834. ⁹⁶
After his son's death, John Quincy Adams was left with a $30,000 mill debt. ⁹⁷ Charles Francis Adams took over the management of the family records. ⁹⁸ William Cranch Greenleaf initially helped with the mill management before Nathaniel Frye, a relation to Louisa Adams, took over, becoming Adams' agent and attorney. ⁹⁹ In 1835, the mills were advertised for rent at $750.00 per year. ¹⁰⁰ "But if Speakman should take them he should account for the rent of the last year, of which he has never paid a cent, and give some security." ¹⁰¹ This is the earliest reference to Mr. Speakman, and it indicates that Speakman had rented the property since 1834, just after John Adams' death. In 1839, John Quincy Adams wrote that he had "no alternative but to accept the proposals of Mr.'s Speakman and Brooks, and therefore authorize these repairs accordingly." ¹⁰² Messrs. Speakman and Brooks rented the Columbia Mills from 1834 to the early 1840s.
Periodic repairs at the mills drained Adams' income, and Speakman had left by 1845, when Adams wrote Frye that he was willing to rent "the land at the mills". ¹⁰³ Frye was still able to secure a small income for Adams in his final years. ¹⁰⁴ After John Quincy Adams' death in 1848, the mills were left in trust to the Adams's heirs.
In 1867, the mills disappeared from the tax books, implying they had ceased to be in use. When John Quincy Adams, Jr. sold the mills with land to Peter McNamara in 1872, the mills were no longer mentioned in the deed transfer. ¹⁰⁵ During the 1880s, the property exchanged hands twice more, first to James Edwards in 1882, then to Pacificus Ord in 1884, before being acquired by the National Zoological Park. ¹⁰⁶ Maps continue to mark the location of what had become known as Adam's Mill until the early 20th century. Early NZP employees reported seeing mill ruins, but today no visible trace remains of the Columbia Mills.
3 "If the grain be brought to the mill by land carriage, the miller took it on his back, a sack generally 3 bus. [bushels], carried it up one story by stair steps, emptied it in a tub holding 4 bus., this tub was hoisted by a jack moved by the power of the Mill which required one man below and another adobe to attend to it, when the tub was moved by hand to the granary, and emptied... From the granary it was moved by hand to the hopper of the rolling screen, from the rolling screen by hand to the Millstone hopper, and as ground it fell into a large trough... thence it was with shovels put into the hoist tubs which employed two men to attend," from there it often had to be moved to the upper floors for storage. Bothe notes that all the movement tended to allow more dirt to get caught up in the process.
Bathe, p. 12.
6 Of the Quaker family mills, the Ellicott Brothers in particular had extensive and innovative mills located on the Papapsco River near Baltimore, which Evans visited. Eugene S. Ferguson, Oliver Evans: Inventive Genius of the American Industrial Revolution. (Greenville, DE: The Hagley Museum and The University of Delaware, 1980), p. 25.
16 Historical American Building Survey (HABS): Report on Halcyon House, Geo-13-DC-69, (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division). Note that the American Biographies entry incorrectly states that "on May 18, 1798 he was elected the first Secretary of the War by John Quincy Adams", son of President John Adams, and President himself in 1824. Because of the dates, it is more likely that John Adams, not his son, elected him.
21 No official records have been found to substantiate this claim. Some written accounts include "Milling in Rock Creek" (SI Archives, National Zoological Park, Office of Public Affairs), "Historic Resource Study: Rock Creek Park" by William Bushong (District of Columbia: United States Department of the Interior, August 1990), and various articles by "The Rambler" (Martin Luther King Library).
22 "Personal Letter to Eliza Gantt," August 4, 1799, Personal Papers by Rebecca S. Stoddert (Library of Congress: Manuscripts Division). Her letter was written from Philadelphia where she resided during her husband's term as Secretary of the Navy.
George Johnson, who also operated the Columbia Mills at a later date, constructed a new mill on site. Documentation however specifies that it was a grist mill. See section on George Johnson.
The mortgage repayment was recorder on July 6, 1809 (DC Recorder of Deeds, Land Records Liber W22, Folio 112).
"1806: Manufacturing mill (a mill for flour intended for market) completed and leased the following year to its first tenants. Jefferson described it as having "two independent water wheels, singled geared, one turning a pair of 5 f. Burr stones, the other a pair of 6 f. do. she will be finished in the best manner with every modern convenience, is about 40 by 60 f. 3 floors in the body which is of stone, and 2 floors in the roof." Important improvements by Oliver Evans were utilized in this 'modern' mill."
55 Most Johnson family genealogies do not mention George, only one gave his birth date and stated that he married Elizabeth Dunlop. Official documents such as a marriage certificate, census records and city directories were not found for 1800-1820.
57 Witness Deposition: Francis Nathan, sworn before Thomas Corcoran in 1814. Civil Trial of Kemp vs. Johnson, verdict given and case files filed in the December term, 1816. (National Archives, RG21, #E6, Record #66).
58 Interview with John McGrain, author of Molinography in Maryland and DC McGrain just completed an exhaustive study of milling in Maryland and the District of Columbia and did not find an Elden Mills. Several other books were searched at the Maryland Archives in Annapolis, the National Museum of American History, the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, and the Frederick Historical Society in Frederick, Maryland.
George Buckey, a witness, stated that Kemp was so financially strapped due to Johnson's negligence that he was forced to sell his house to pay off expenses owed.
Evans' patent had expired on January 7, 1805, and congress refused to extend it. Evans nonetheless fought for his right to collect license fees from millers using his inventions. Finally a private bill in his name, "An Act for the Relief of Oliver Evans," was passed in January of 1808, and Evans had his patent renewed for another 14 years. He thereafter spent much of his time running after millers and in court collecting license fees. The most celebrated of these cases was Evans vs. Robinson, in which he confronted angry Baltimore millers. Ferguson, p. 52, 53.
61 Civil Trial of Zachariah Smart vs. George Johnson, 1820. Sued over milling devices, listing Meal at $3.40 each measurement, Flour at $9.40, and several cash entries. Final verdict for Smart, $196.72
Wilson vs. Johnson, 1815. Falls Bridge Turnpike Company vs. Johnson, 1818, Johnson vs. Wallach, 1818. Walker vs. Johnson, 1826. Johnson vs. Bank of Columbia, 1819, Johnson vs. Linthicum and Magruder, 1822.
*All of the case documents have George Johnson's signature. He lost all seven cases.
63 Manufacturers Census of 1820 (National Archives, Microfiche Room). Later George Johnson claimed to only be able to produce 100 barrels a day. "John Quincy Adams Diary", July 14, 1823 (Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division: Reel 37).
65 Census Records indicate that there were several George Johnsons living in Washington County who owned slaves. However, due to his common name and the fact that no exact match was found for the number of children, it is unclear if any of the listed George Johnsons was the correct one.
Map of the Zoological Park, 1889, preliminary site, (Library of Congress Cartographics, G3852.N3)
Hopkins Map, Vol. 3. 1894, Map including property of National Zoological Park. (National Archives Cartographics, Ref. Coll.)
Roberta Johnson Peter, p. 4.
Throughout 1823 and early 1824, Louisa Catherine wrote often to both of her sons, Charles Francis and John, frequently mentioning that her husband intended to return to Massachusetts.
The complaint of Johnson's poor bookkeeping skills recurs in Adams' diary entries throughout the years that Johnson managed the mills.
Also see section on George Johnson for further explanation.
Paul C. Nagel, Descent from Glory. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), p.171.
Paul C. Nagel, The Adams Women. (New York and Oxford: Oxford Press, 1987), p.236.
Bemis, p. 95, 254, 255.
91 Although Charles Francis Adams was a successful businessman, he remarked in his diary that his father had no mind for business..."He is a singular man with regard to the management of his property. Investments with him are chance things." "Charles Francis Adams Diary," Adams Family Papers: Charles Francis Adams Diary, September 4, 1829. (Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Reel 59).
"Letters from Louisa Catherine to daughter-in-law, Mrs. Mary Hellen Adams", Adams Family Papers, May 19, 1831 and June 12, 1831(Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Reel 493).
93 "Letters from John Quincy Adams to his son John Adams," Adams Family Papers, June 1, 1831, June 14, 1831, June 29, 1831, July 23, 1831, and others between 1830-1833, (Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Reels 493, 149, 492,).
"John Quincy Adams Diary," Adams Family Papers, May 7, 1837, June 12, 1838, May 22, 1839, February 21, 1844, October 1, 1846 (Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Reels 36, 52, 47, 155).
Land Transfer Deed From John Quincy Adams, Jr. to Peter McNamara, February 6, 1872. (DC Recorder of Deeds, Land Records Liber 670, Folio 295-297).
Land Transfer Deed From James Edwards to Pacificus Ord, February 18, 1884. (DC Recorder of Deeds, Land Records Liber 1074, Folio 13-16).