Early Franklin Sawmill Was Converted to a Gristmill by Area Brewers Robert Storm 7/17/2019
An 1840’s mill was located in the southwest corner of present day Whitnall Park. Through the years, the site of the mill had been protected by a barn located next to the mill site. The barn was constructed after the mill operation ceased. (The little red barn located north of Rawson Ave, near where Hwy 100 passes overhead, was torn down around 2014.)
The location of the mill and the waterways that fed it are easily distinguishable by the remaining boulders and stonework that were part of its construction. The large boulders that were placed approximately 30 feet apart to form a semi- circle barrier along the front edge of the mill, and the stones that prevented the hillside mill location from eroding are still in place. The mill was constructed around 1841 by the owner of the property, Charles Postal. Postal and his crew moved large amounts of earth and boulders to create a dam across the creek that runs through the property, the mill pond, the millrace and spill way. The running creek was routed to an overshot water wheel that initially powered a saw mill.
As new farmers cleared the dense trees from their properties, the logs were taken to the saw mill to be converted to lumber. The era of building with logs was replaced by the era of frame construction.
Before moving to Franklin, Charles Postal had built and operated a gristmill on his father’s 160 acres in the Detroit area of Michigan. However, after moving to Franklin, the Michigan mill operation created a major problem for Postal, “an affectionate and kind husband and parent, and an enterprising member of society”. A conflict arose when a turnpike was constructed near the Postal mill in Michigan, and in 1843 the Detroit and Pontiac Turnpike Co. placed a lean on Postal’s Franklin property for damages done in Michigan. Postal had invested everything into the mill in Franklin, and he couldn’t afford to pay for the Michigan damages. Postal appears to have sold the mill before the claim for damages was issued, but the person Postal sold the mill to defaulted on the mortgage. A series, sheriff’s estate sales, and ownership changes followed for the next ten years.
Charles Postal and family moved to the Racine County area, and his name was cleared in 1845 when he hired Moses B. Butterfield, a prominent attorney from Racine. Butterfield paid Postal’s damages and Postal signed the mill property over to Butterfield with the understanding that Postal would pay Butterfield back. Postal died in 1846 before he could make good on his promise.
When Butterfield took ownership, he deeded the property to his nephew, Andrew Burr. An article in the 1847 Milwaukee Sentinel and Gazette reported that Andrew Burr died in a fall while operating the saw mill.
Several owners later, in 1855, the mill was purchased by the successful operator of the Main Street Brewery in Milwaukee, J. P. Engelhardt. (Engelhardt was related to the Gross and Engelhardt families that lived and brewed beer in Franklin.) Engelhardt converted the saw mill to a grist mill.
Around 1857, Engelhardt updated the dam that created the mill pond. The updated dam was constructed with concrete mortar and stone aggregate, and it was reinforced internally with iron bars. The concrete dam was one of the earliest known uses of concrete in the area and potentially in the state of Wisconsin. The lime probably came from the Trimborn Farms lime kilns in Greendale, and the gravel aggregate could have come from the later day site of a gravel pit located half a mile from the dam. The dam is still intact on the creek that runs through the Sacred Hearts Monastery property and into Whitnall Park.
In 1860, J. P. Engelhardt died on the sinking of the Lady Elgin (a wooden-hulled sidewheel steamship that sank in Lake Michigan off Highwood, Illinois). Engelhardt’s widow eventually sold the mill to Phillip Gross. Both J. P. Engelhardt and Phillip Gross (operator of the Gross Brewery in Franklin) used the gristmill for the initial grinding stage of manufacturing the malt used at their breweries. Early brewing was an extremely competitive market, so to distinguish their beer from the competition, early brewers attempted to control every part of the brewing process.
The mill ceased to operate somewhere between 1867 and 1872. It was listed on tax records through 1866, and in 1872, Gross divided the property and sold the property containing the mill separately from the property that contained the millpond and dam. In 1868, a more reliable wind powered Holland-style grist mill was moved to St. Martins by Joseph Nelesen. It operated there for 30 years and was a Franklin landmark until torn down in 1932.
Iron artifacts from the grinding process of the Engelhardt/Gross gristmill were found at the site of the mill and were dated as pre-Civil War by a Milwaukee blacksmith. The iron bars used in the construction of the grinding artifacts is the same material that was used to reinforce the concrete of the dam. The mill location is detailed on the map of the Kundig Canal dated 1850 (a canal to connect Muskego Lake with the Root River), and also on an 1858 plat map.