BUSTI – Forty-three years ago, three girls decided the historic Busti Mill in this rural Chautauqua County town deserved to be saved.
The trio led a dedicated group of volunteers who, since 1970, have raised tens of thousands of dollars in donations, including gifts of raw materials and contributions made through Busti’s annual Apple Festival, to restore the grist mill that dates to the 1800s.
Next month, the Busti community and the volunteers who helped to salvage the mill will celebrate its reincarnation, following extensive repairs, as one of the only grain mills believed to operate in this area.
The three women at the heart of the restoration campaign were members of a local 4-H Club when they began to preserve the grist mill in Busti, which is just south of Jamestown and Chautauqua Lake.
Mary Sienkiewicz, now a Buffalo resident; Diane Pangborn Hunter, now of Youngsville, Pa.; and Louise Carlson Harvey, who lives nearby in Ashville, applied for a $500 grant from Readers Digest magazine and put the money toward their mill project.
A local landmark, the mill by the early 1970s had structural issues and was in serious need of repairs.
When it was fully operational in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the mill’s three millstones ground wheat, corn and buckwheat. Before transportation by rail car or truck, local residents had their grain turned to flour or animal feed at the grist mill.
The three women worked with Robert Schultz, who has spent countless hours at the site since 1970 and who recalled that the early days of their initiative were filled with donations – though most were small.
“Some days a guy would show up with some lumber or a box of nails,” he said.
The mill, which was taken over by the neighboring Busti Historical Society, was listed with the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. But the restoration was slow going in 1970s and ’80s until the historical society started the annual Apple Festival.
The festival, celebrated in September each year, regularly brings in about 10,000 people and has contributed about $100,000 toward restoration of the mill, said Schultz, who will serve as its millwright.
In its restored state, the mill will produce flour again that may be sold to keep the money flowing for continued operation of the historic site.
The three-story structure has two millstones – not the three used originally – and wooden chutes for distributing the grain, and many of the working pieces are from its historic era.
Visitors can see the huge stones working via a water-fed system to grind grain as it passes through a narrow chute and is then carried up to the third floor to be sifted again in a giant auger and screen device.
Originally, the entire system was operated by water from the nearby stream. However, current water levels don’t allow the restored mill to rely entirely on hydropower, so an electric motor will simulate the historic energy source.
Visitors will also be able to see Eureka grain cleaning or smut cleaning systems, which were made in Silver Creek and were used to remove dirt and dust before grain was processed through the mill.
And volunteers will be on hand at the June 9 dedication to show visitors the process as it would have operated in the late 1800s.
The grist mill and the historical society museum are located at 3443 Lawson Road in Busti.