Saving the Ledyard sawmill

The town of Ledyard purchased the mill and surrounding property in 1966.

The mill sat mostly dormant from the 1930s to the 1960s, although the owner Harry C.W. Main did some restoration and repair work on the building and the sash sawmill. Although Harry said that the mill was still operational in 1963, by 1966 the south side of the building was collapsing, the vertical board siding was failing, and just a few years later the roof right above the sash sawmill was rotted enough to need to be covered with sheets of plywood and corrugated metal.

In the early 1960s members of the Ledyard Historical Society recognized the importance of the mill and started a campaign to rescue it from the fate of the thousands of sash sawmills that had once existed on streams throughout New England and all of North America for hundreds of years. The campaign culminated successfully in 1966 when the town of Ledyard purchased the property from Harry C.W. Main for $12,000. The sale to the town closed the last chapter of the sawmill as a privately owned mill. Harry died in 1970, just a few years before restoration was completed and the reopening as a working water-powered sawmill museum in 1975.

225 year old Ledyard sawmill still operates. Norwich Bulletin, January 13, 1963.Town purchases Park Site. Norwich Bulletin, Oct 14, 1966.

1966-1975 Preservation and Restoration

The mill building required extensive clean up and temporary patches to keep out the weather. The shed on the south side of the building was damaged beyond saving, so it was demolished and the rectangular building that houses the sash sawmill was repaired with some timber replacements and new roofing and siding. Repairs and alignment were needed in the lower level to the original water turbine and the framing that supports the shafts that power the up-down saw.

By 1972, the south side shed had been rebuilt. Additional mill equipment was also added during the early 1970s: a Lane shingle machine was donated and a circular sawmill that was previously in the mill was purchased and returned to its former home.

Along with work on the building and sash sawmill mechanism, the pond was deepened, and the property was readied for life as a town park complete with swimming beach. In addition, the spillway to the brook, the dam, and gate to control water flow into the mill were repaired and re-set.

Work continued on the mill after the dedication and reopening in 1975 with the rebuilding of the blacksmith shop and a building addition in the southeast corner of the mill for a gristmill purchased from Rhode Island in the early 1980s.

Funding for the extensive repairs was provided by the town of Ledyard, grants from the State of Connecticut, and fundraising efforts by the Ledyard Historical Society.

Ledyard Historical Society out to Restore Old Sawmill. New London Day, June 7, 1967.Mill Pond Property Being Readied. New London Day, August 31, 1967.3600 grant Okd for mill. New London Day, November 8, 1968.Council Approves Money to Dredge Pond. New London Day, July 1, 1974.Work Progressing on Sawmill Park. New London Day, April 19, 1974.Blacksmith tools due for display. New London Day, March 31, 1975.Funds OKd for sawmill equipment. The Groton News , April 23, 1975.

1975 The Restored mill reopens

The mill opened to the public for the first time on April 19, 1975 as both a dedication of the restored historical site and to kick off American bicentennial events that were planned for the next 15 months. Several hundred visitors watched as the original water-powered sash sawmill was started up and sawed local timbers again after decades of dormancy.

The restoration of this important local, state, and national resource was a tremendous accomplishment by townspeople of Ledyard that the town can still be proud of today.

Sawmill Dedication Ceremonies Are Set. New London Day, March 18, 1975.200 persons attend Ledyard ceremonies opening 200th birthday celebration. The Groton News April 21, 1975.200 View Sawmill Demonstration. Norwich Bulletin, April 22, 1975.
Photos on this page are from the collection of the Ledyard Historical Society, Janice W. Bell Historical Research Room, Bill Library, Ledyard, Connecticut.