ROBINSON SAWMILL HISTORY
from Harlan Green (T-5)
Some of us in Turkey V group
restored the Robinson sawmill in Vermont during our 1964 Peace Corps
training. I’m sure there are others who can also remember the
work. I remember it was Mike Miller, Heath Lowry and myself who did
much of the work. I had worked as a journeyman union carpenter, while I
think Heath and Mike also had done manual labor in our young and varied
The Turkey V training group was
headquartered at Sandanona, Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont estate near
Brattleboro, where he was reputed to have written the Jungle Book. (He
had married a Vermonter and also built a large mansion just up the road.
As part of our training for Rural
Community Development, (via The Experiment in International Living), we
were moved up to East Calais (9
mi. north of the capital Montpelier on dirt roads) to live on a farm and learn some rural
skills. The people of East Calais were also interested in restoring the
sawmill, among other projects, to have it as a kind of historical
museum. Others trainees did road work, built stone walls and a septic
The Robinson Mill was reputed to be
the longest running water-powered sawmill in Vermont. It ran until the
1950s commercially, when pond silting and wear and tear on the equipment
forced it to shut down. It was run by a water-powered turbine set at
the bottom of an approximately 30 foot long penstock that ran water over
the dam. The rotating turbine shaft at the bottom was then geared to
horizontal belts that ran the saw blade and a moving bed that held the
logs to be cut.
The upper and lower ponds, regulated
by sluice gates, had silted so much there was only sufficient water to
cut logs during the spring runoff. Not only did the metal turbine
itself need renovation, but the turbine housing made up of large bridge
timbers had rotted. We totally rebuilt the turbine housing and welded
or machined the necessary parts to get the turbine working again. I
believe that Mike Miller even carved some of the broken gears from wood.
This all happened in August,
September of 1964, before we shipped out to Turkey and to our villages.
The sawmill was again restored in 2003 after much fundraising effort via
a non-profit. I returned in 2005 during a rainy autumn day and took
many photos of its being run. The local Vermonters are real
characters. They recently did two male nude calendars to raise
$500,000 to build a community center at Maples Corner (of which I have
copies)! They got the idea from movie, “The Calendar Girls”. But since
the women wouldn’t pose, Vermont’s men stepped up to the plate and
posed. Our farmer Stanley Fitch in his 70s was one of them….
Harlan Green (T-5)
Men opening sluice gate at pond.
Then water runs down penstock to turbine at bottom.
Turbine then runs horizontal belts that power saw blade and
bed that holds logs, etc.
Sawyer is taking cut plank from roller bed. Harlan Green is on the
Part of non-profit
committee that raised the monies.
For more information on the Robinson Sawmill, check an article in
The Boston Globe:
a response to the article from Harlan Green:
I enjoyed your August 5 AP article about the Calais, Vermont
Robinson sawmill, with but one omission. I was part of a
Turkey Peace Corps Volunteers’ group (Turkey V) that spent
several weeks of our training period living in East Calais and
restoring the Robinson sawmill in 1964. We were able to run
it at that time, and hoped to turn it into a historical
museum. But its sawyer died soon after and it fell again into
disrepair. The inhabitants of Kents Corner—on the original
stagecoach road from Montpelier to Montreal, Canada, I
believe—formed a nonprofit organization, and funds were raised
to restore it once more. It wasn’t fully restored and able to
run again until 2005. The local Vermonters are wonderful
people, and sure could use donations to dredge their pond.
Otherwise, the pond doesn’t hold enough water except during
winter storms and spring runoff to cut logs. Tax deductible
donations may be sent to: The Aldrich Memorial Association,
Inc., PO Box 94, Calais, VT 05648—0094.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer