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Mills were an important part of life in the 18th century; in fact they were the first factories. 

Mills were an important part of the economy of the cities and towns that grew up around them. They provided lumber for shelter, iron for pots, pans and other implements and flour for bread. Mills produced manufactured goods for the overseas trade. The four major types of mills in the 18th century were:

  1. The Gristmill
  2. The Sawmill
  3. The Iron mill
  4. The Textile Mill

Before steam became a viable power source, most mills relied upon either water or wind to operate their machinery, forges and furnaces. Water was the most reliable source of power, thus people constructed mills near streams and other sources of running water. Throughout North America, the towns and cities that grew up around these mills became vital centers of commerce. 

For more information about mills and their uses and history go to these Web sites:

The Old Time Water Wheels of America
This extract from a work originally published in 1893 by Joseph P. Frizell examines water wheels of America and their construction. This extract, among others, is on the Pond Lily Mill Restorations Web site.

Water Power
This student essay on the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution Web site, discusses water power and its uses in mills.

Mills of the 18th and 19th century Camden County, North Carolina
From the Camden County history, you can read about mills that were located in the area. It includes some information on what people did to grind their grain without the mill. A useful survey for background purposes.