The Story of the old Slade Spice Mill in Chelsea
A very important part of the life of the early settlers depended on the grinding of their corn and grain. Boston applied the use of windmills for grinding. The inhabitants of Winnisimmet and the surrounding communities had to travel to Timothy Sprague's grist mill near Malden Square. Sprague erected his mill in 1641 in order to harness the streams for grinding. In 1721, the people of the Rumney Marsh section petitioned the selectmen of Boston, of which Chelsea was still a part, for a right to build a tide-water mill. The selectmen of Boston, after viewing the site, finally granted the petition, but there were so many restrictions and binding attachments that nothing was done immediately. In 1734, Thomas Pratt at his own expense, built a tide-water mill, originally known as "The Mill," the forerunner of Slade's Mill.
Samuel Watts bought a quarter interest in "The Mill" in 1735. Samuel Watts died in 1770, leaving his interest to William Watts. Thomas Pratt purchased the inherited interest from William Watts on June 9, 1772, for forty pounds, becoming sole owner of "The Mill." March 9, 1780, Thomas Pratt sold one half of the grist mill to Samuel Clark for six hundred pounds sterling and fifty Spanish milled dollars. On May 27, 1780, Samuel Clark sold his one half interest to James Stowers for the same purchase price.
In 1816, after what appeared to be a disastrous fire, the town bought out the old owners for two hundred pounds sterling and rebuilt the dam across the tide-water creek . The town also erected a new tide mill on the site of the original mill. The charter of the new mill read: "that the mill must at all times be ready to grind corn for any citizen of Chelsea, provided that the corn is raised in the Town of Chelsea." When the farmer brought the grain to be ground, he would pay a miller's dole for the service, a certain percentage of the grist.
In 1827 Henry Slade acquired a share in the mill. While under Henry Slade's management, the mill began to grind snuff as well as corn. Spices at this time were sold whole, to be ground by hand at home. Two of Henry's sons, David and Levi, entered into the business, and in 1837, conceived the idea of grinding spice in the mill. David and Levi ground up a half barrel of cinnamon, carrying the barrel between them, they visited all the local grocers and was soon sold out. Spice grinding became very successful for the two brothers who operated under the name of D. & L. Slade Company. Years later most of the mill was equipped with electrically driven machines. All the hard work that David and Levi did so painstakingly by hand was later done in a fraction of the time without a hand touching package or contents.
The machinery for harnessing the tide and opening the sluiceway is still operable. The dam spans the tidewater creating a pond. A sluiceway with hinged gates is in the dam. The pressure of the incoming tide opens the gates. When the tide goes out the current on the other side shuts the gates and holds the water in the pond. When the tide begins to go out and water recedes below the dam, the sluiceway gates are opened in the mill. Water from the pond flows into round upright cylinders. Each cylinder contains a shaft with pitched blades on the lower end. Water falling on the blades rotates the shaft. On the upper end of each shaft is a wooden, cogged, gearwheel connecting a shaft that turns the grinding wheel, a huge round stone that weighs eighteen hundred pounds.
On June 30, 1972, Slade's Spice Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- The Tide Mill Institute web site has a great article and sketchs of the Slade Spice Mill.