The Washington region sports a handful of grist mills, including George Washington’s near Mount Vernon, Pierce’s Mill along Rock Creek Parkway, and ones in Aldie and Millwood. With old man winter loosening his vise-like grip today, we headed to Great Falls and visited Colvin Run Mill. The road it's on runs parallel to Route 7 and is a remnant of Leesburg Pike, one of the critical connectors in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Five miles west of Tysons Corner, Colvin Run Mill is the sole surviving operational 19th-century water-powered mill in the area. A spread of hilly land and associated buildings (General Store, Blacksmith Forge, Miller’s House, barn and mill pond) are part of the experience.
Colvin Mill is also special in its historical designation. It is one of just six Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks in Virginia, as designated by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Its restored mechanism is a "nationally significant example of automated technologies pioneered in milling and later adopted across American industry."
Much has been written about tobacco in the region, but as Marjorie Lundegard notes ("Mills and Mill Sites in Fairfax County VA and Washington, D.C.") notes, from the 1750’s wheat cultivation and milling of grains became of great importance. Immigrants from Scotland, Ireland and Germany farmed the product. In the 1790s, Oliver Evans and Thomas Ellicott increased efficiency by introducing automation.
A small village thrived around Colvin Run Mill. In the mid-1930s the mill was abandoned, and highway development caused the mill to be cut off from any near-by water source. Fairfax County acquired the property in 1965. Grinding still takes place a couple of times a month, and guided tours are available. The store is a delightful snapshot of a slower time when checkers were played beside a pipe stove and cashiers needed tax charts. Lundegard’s publications are available, as well as grits and assorted goodies.