Waterside Woolen Mill

D800-Waterside Woolen Mill-2322-2014-04-12This water-powered woolen mill was built in 1806 in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

It harnessed the power of Yellow Creek to operate the machinery that processed wool collected from sheep farmers throughout the surrounding valley.

While ownership of the woolen mill passed through several hands during the 1800s, it operated continuously from 1806 right up until the 1960s.

After a closure that lasted some thirty years, the mill was bought by the grandson of one of the earlier owners, who restarted production of the fine woolen blankets and garments, for which Waterside Woolen Mill had become renowned.

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The current owners, local residents Dennis and Lisa Wile, bought the mill in 2009 and have kept up its production, using traditional manufacturing machines, tools and methods, thus making it one of the oldest operating woolen mills in the USA.

Upon first arriving to photograph the mill, I left my camera in the car and spent the first hour just walking around trying to make sense of its dark, pervasive chaos.

Strewn throughout the shadowy mill were pieces of furniture, industrial machinery, hand tools, fabric and office equipment, – some broken, some operable, most rusted. I could hardly believe that this is a facility that still produces wool. But, among all the mayhem, somehow it does.D800-Waterside Woolen Mill-2327-2014-04-12

A two hundred year old building such as this presents special opportunities for photography. The depth of the windows, the rich texture of the crumbling plaster on the walls, the cracked wooden floorboards, the way the light and shadow changes, as the sun moves around the building during the course of the day, all require the photographer to pay careful attention to seeing compositions as they appear and disappear from one moment to the next.

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Because of the ever-changing light, I moved regularly between the mill’s four floors, studying how the light was moving, watching the shadows change shape and creep across the ancient floors.

Even after almost eight hours spent shooting in the mill, I felt I was only just beginning to get the feel of the place, only just starting to see it properly.

I know I will have to go back and explore its extraordinary photographic potential further.

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4 Comments

  1. Irv Freedman April 18, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    When I was a kid and lived just off of Druid Hill Park, we used to go over to a certain area of Jones Fals. There was some sort of cotton mill along side that particular area of the Jones Falls. What ever it was that they did in the mill, there was a large discharge of white cotton fibers. The fibers had coated the whole area behind the mill, between the mill and the water. It looked like snow covering the hillside all year long. We had snow all summer long. We played there often. Don’t remember esactly what we did, but I remember clearly the summer snows.

    Good article and photos. I’l have to drive up there one Saturday. Thanks for the info.

    • shaunmoss April 19, 2014 at 1:48 am #

      Thanks, Irv, for the visit and the comment. I got access to the mill via a workshop run by Dave Hammaker. Here’s the link:
      http://www.creatinggreatphotos.com/waterside-woolen-mill-pennsylvania-november-23-2013/

      But I think you could also get access as a private citizen. Certainly, the day I was there, it seemed to be open to the public from 9.00am till 5.00pm, which was when our workshop group had access. You could call them on 814-766-3719 and ask. It’s a fascinating place for creating images and an easy two-hour drive from Baltimore.

  2. Stan Collyer April 19, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    Nice article, and damn fine images, Shaun. Your photos are always worth studying carefully. Even when I (rarely) don’t care for one, I respect the thought and effort you put into them.

    Interesting venue. Maybe we can go there together sometime.

    • shaunmoss April 19, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

      Thank you very much for the kind comment, Stan. I am pleased that, even if you don’t like one of my images, you can see that I have put a good deal of thought and effort into creating it. I believe it is true that I don’t take a lot of careless images these days.

      Yes, let’s explore the possibility of going there together some time. It’s doable as a day trip from Washington. I will contact the mill and see when we might be able to get access.

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