Rye and Middlings

Flour Chest, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880

Flour Chest, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.471.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Interior of a North Family Wood House, June, 1938.

Interior of a North Family Wood House, June, 1938. Retrieved from: Historic American Buildings Survey, “Shaker. North Family Washhouse (second), Shaker Road, New Lebanon, NY.

This red-painted flour chest in the Shaker Museum collection was acquired from the North Family at Mount Lebanon, a fact that’s backed up by a 1938 photograph of the interior of the North Family’s Wood House. In that photograph the flour chest sits behind, and is nearly obscured by, a table saw and a grindstone. The giveaways that this is the same chest are the four visible hinges on the top of the chest indicating that the lid is split into two sections, and the rather prominent casters used to roll the chest. These features, along with its general dimensions as they appear in the photograph, provide strong evidence that it is the same chest.

Interior of Flour Chest Showing Labels for Bins, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880

Interior of Flour Chest Showing Labels for Bins, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.471.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Interior of Flour Chest Showing Labels for Bins, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880

Interior of Flour Chest Showing Labels for Bins, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.471.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Each of the chest’s lids cover  two partitioned compartments. The undersides of the lids are labeled in hand-painted letters: Rye, Middlings, Course Flour, and Fine Flour. All were used in baking. Rye flour is mixed with wheat flour to make rye bread. Middlings are the parts of the wheat kernel – the bran and sometimes the germ – that are often sifted out of milled wheat flour. Middlings are occasionally added back into bread for additional fiber and protein. Coarse flour usually refers to whole wheat flour – sometimes called Graham flour after Sylvester Graham, a 19th century advocate of vegetarianism, temperance, and eating only whole grain flours. Fine flour is what is left when all of the bran and germ are sifted out of milled wheat.

Elder Frederick W. Evans, North Family Elder for 57 years, is known to have been very particular about bread and how and from what it was made.  In 1877 he wrote a letter to Brother Albert Lomas, editor of the The Shaker, commenting on making bread:

The wheat is the starting point. The wheat must be home ground, or you will not have homemade bread. We might as well go to Moody and Sankey for pure Christianity, as to go to a worldly miller with our wheat to grind; much less to buy the flour to make Shaker whole wheat, or coarse ground, unleavened bread.

He follows this caution with a recipe for Shaker whole wheat bread.

The Church Family built a substantial grist mill in 1824 and for years was able to produce flour for all the Mount Lebanon Shaker families. For a number of years they employed millers from the outside world and often had trouble keeping them. It may have been that by the time Evans wrote his commentary on wheat bread he was concerned that the millers were not supplying the family with proper flour for Shaker bread. Sometime in the early 1880s the North Family created a small grist mill inside their 1854 Wood House. By this time the family had largely switched to coal for heating and some of the Wood House was available for other functions. At the south end of the building the Shakers created a new modern laundry. The new laundry required power for the new machinery they installed. That power came from piping water under considerable pressure from a reservoir they had built in 1875 to supply hydrants to protect the family from fire. This water source was extended into the cellar of the Wood House to operate a ten-horsepower Baccus Water Motor. The Shakers soon found additional uses for the power supplied by the water motor – one of which was to power the equipment necessary to operate the grist mill.

Schematic Illustration of the Grist Mill in the Wood House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Schematic Illustration of the Grist Mill in the Wood House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY. Museum staff.

The grist mill was constructed vertically in small rooms adjacent to the laundry  and directly over the water motor in the cellar. The rooms were also next to an “elevator” that was used to take damp laundry from the wash room in the cellar to the attic when it needed to be dried indoors. While the date the Shaker built their grist mill is not known, it is known that on February 6, 1884, a carpenter “finished the wheat bins in the wood house loft.” The wheat bin is located in the Wood House attic directly over the room on the second floor where the grindstone was located. The bin could be filled from bags or barrels of wheat brought up the elevator and could be released down a wooden chute from the bin directly into the hopper of the grindstone. Flour and its more undesirable by-products traveled from the grindstone through another wooden chute to the room directly below where they were fed into a sifter or bolting machine that separated middlings from fine flour. For coarse flour, the ground wheat was not bolted, leaving all of the bran and germ in the flour – much to Elder Frederick’s liking.  Both the grindstone and bolting machinery were powered by the water motor. The various flours produced in the mill needed to be stored in separate bins – therefore there was need for a large flour bin in the Shakers’ wood house.

It is not known when the milling equipment was removed from the Wood House. It was apparently gone prior to 1940 when A. K. Mosley measured and drew the Wood House floor plan for the Historic American Buildings Survey. There is considerable evidence still intact in the building that supports the description of the grist mill. A tin-lined square funnel in the floor of the wheat bin is open directly to where it appears the grindstone was located. Holes in the floors remain where belts from the water motor traveled to operate both the grindstone and the bolting machinery, and the wooden chute that once brought ground wheat into the bolting machine remains in place. The disposition of the equipment has yet to be discovered.



No such thing as too many irons on the fire: Shaker stoves

fig 1

Ironing Stove, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.749.1.

Shakers generally designed their own stoves. Once a design was completed, a cabinetmaker made a wooden pattern. The pattern was taken to a foundry where one or more stoves were cast in iron. When the castings were retrieved Shaker blacksmiths and mechanics would do the finishing work – making door latches and hinges and sealing the pieces to make the stove airtight.

fig 2

Photograph, Ironing Stove with Doors Open, Ironing Room, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, William F. Winter, Photographer, ca. 1930. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1962.14115.1.

This stove was designed by the Shakers specifically for heating irons in their laundry. Sad irons, smoothing irons, flat irons, polishing irons, sleeve irons, collar irons, and tailors’ gooses  – whatever they are called and however they are used – all have two things in common: they are heavy and must be re-heated often. The ironing stove has ledges cast into its sides that hold the back end of an iron so the flat part of the iron rests against the side of the hot stove. Two raised rails along the sides of the top are intended to hold larger irons – tailor’s gooses or sleeve irons – slightly above the top of the stove.  The stove is long enough to hold two dozen irons. Irons needed to be exchanged frequently to keep them hot enough to be useful. Unlike blacksmithing, you probably cannot have “too many irons in the fire.” Exchanging hot for cool irons was often the work of young Shaker girls, who quickly learned how to use a pad to hold the hot handle and how to put the hot iron down on a trivet to keep from scorching the cloth on which ironing was being done.

This ironing stove in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection was acquired by founder John S. Williams, Sr., from the South Family Shakers prior to 1946, when the property was purchased by Jerome and Sybil Count as the home for their Shaker Village Work Camp. This stove is un-cased, meaning there was no way of shielding the ironing crew from the heat of the stove in the summer. In Shakerism: Its Meaning and Message, Shaker authors White and Taylor tell of Brother George Wickersham’s invention of a summer covering – a casing – for Mount Lebanon’s Church Family’s ironing stove. The casing captured the heat radiating from the stove and vented it out of the room through a pipe that surrounded the regular stove pipe, keeping the ironing room cooler.


fig 5

Photograph (detail) , Ironing Stove, “Magnetic Lotus,” Wash House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, William F. Winter, Photographer, ca. 1930. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1962.14094.1.

Fortunately, the ironing room in the 1879 wash house renovation at the North Family at Mount Lebanon had very high ceilings to help keep the room cooler since the Shakers did not select a cased stove for the room. They purchased an ironing stove called the “Magnetic Lotus” that was not cased but did have a water tank above the fire chamber. The water chamber kept irons placed at a temperature that was more consistent than for irons placed directly against the firebox. In fitting out their new wash house ironing room the Shaker purchased laundry equipment from the Troy Washing Machine Company, in nearby, Troy, NY. That company did offer a cased stove in their 1892 catalogue but there is no evidence the Shakers purchased one.

The South Family ironing stove is on view with other artifacts of Shaker laundry at Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon through October 10,2016 in the summer exhibition Wash: There is no dirt in heaven.