This mill has to be one of those ‘best kept New England secrets’ you hear tell of now and then. Well, I’m about to blab…
I’d heard bits and pieces about Frye’s Measure Mill in Wilton NH over the years, but never enough to know exactly where or what it was. I’d only heard it was a historic mill, still in operation … and makes woodenware, especially Shaker-style boxes…
Recently I’d planned to connect up with a dear friend who lives in Northern Massachusetts. I dug into my memory banks for an interesting meeting place, approximately midway, for each of us. We both love an adventure, especially if nature, history and/or handcrafts are involved. Frye’s Historic Measure Mill came to mind. I did a bit of research to determine exactly where it was and we planned a noontime reunion that Sunday, allowing us each sufficient travel time in unfamiliar territory.
Well, I had a few surprises in store. First, I didn’t realize the mill was so far off the ‘beaten path’. (I like off the ‘beaten path!) I followed my directions along a series of increasingly rural and scenic back roads. The phrase ‘off Burton Highway’ seemed so at odds with the countryside around me. I was intrigued but kept thinking I must have missed a turn somewhere.
However, before long, I crossed a small bridge and suddenly I’d arrived at a large brick and wood shingled mill complex spanning a bubbling stream beside a melodic waterfall. The setting was arrestingly beautiful, like a classic calendar photograph come to life. I stepped out of the car and listened to the water spilling over the falls and the songs of birds in the woods that surrounds the mill. I took a few photos before Ruth joined me; she expressed similar surprise about the last few driving miles. She was as enchanted with the destination as I was.
I was pleased to see a well-placed picnic table for patrons located at the far end of the parking area, under some shady trees. Any place that caters to picnickers rates very high in my book. It was a glorious day, weather-wise with summer winding down and just a few trees beginning to blush. We visited together outside for a while, catching up, then we proceeded within.
It took a moment for our eyes to adjust from the bright sunlight outside to the softly lit interior with its large ceiling beams, multi-paned windows, wide floorboards and many other original architectural features. This vintage sawmill dates from 1858. The mill’s museum shop, I soon learned, is a series of interconnecting rooms, each full of wonderful woodenware and other handcrafted treasures. Show rooms abound with attractively displayed merchandise. You’ll discover rooms filled with antique furniture and vintage household items as well as the wonderful woodenware items made at the mill. Here you’ll also find hand-forged ironware, hand made pottery and hand-blown glassware all created by artisans and crafts people, and all demonstrating the superior craftsmanship that is the hallmark of this museum shop.
The Colonial and Shaker-style boxes and ‘piggins’, in a variety of sizes, are still crafted at the mill in the traditional way, with water-driven antique machinery. Piggins, for the record, are wooden measuring devices with turned handles, hence the term ‘measure’ in ‘Measure Mill’. The workmanship of all the items featured in the museum shop is extraordinary as it has apparently always been. Due to this reputation for exceptional quality, the Shakers asked the mill, many years ago, to take on production of their unique wooden boxes. They’ve been doing it ever since.
I discovered items here I’d not seen in years, and found things that were entirely new and fascinating to me. An astounding amount of ingenuity was involved in the design of many of the wooden box items. Beautifully worked lids were turned upside down and held pincushions and became candle holders as well as other practical items. One oval Shaker-style box held several storm candles and had a candlestick and matchbox built into the lid, at once beautiful and very practical. The atmosphere in the show rooms was comfortable and unhurried. We browsed and enjoyed the vintage ambiance. Many of the newly made items were so authentically aged that I had to double check with the attendant to see if they were genuinely old or newly made. Every item exhibited consistently high quality craftsmanship.
All items on the Frye’s Measure Mill website may or may not be immediately available due to the time involved in making each piece. If an item is not in stock, sufficient time will be necessary for it to be acquired or created. It is advised that collectors and shoppers call and check on availability, as far ahead as possible. Believe me, the products created here, are well worth waiting for. Just don’t wait until the last minute for that special gift or special item for yourself. Best plan is to visit the mill in person and choose something from the thousands of items available in stock there.
Frye’s Measure Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours of the mill and workshops are available by reservation. See the website for details.