I had no particular destination in mind when I left on this lunchtime bike ride. Initially, I just rode north. Then as I was riding and would see a direction that didn’t look familiar, I would follow it. As I made my way up through the DuPont Circle, Kalorama, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, I just continued riding. Eventually I found myself on a long downhill stretch of Park Road, and as I crossed over Beach Road I happened upon Peirce Mill. Situated in Rock Creek Park, Peirce Mill is located at 2539 Tilden Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.
Peirce Mill was built on 1839 by a Quaker farmer from Pennsylvania named Issac Peirce. Using the moving water or Rock Creek as a power source, the mill ground corn, wheat, and rye. However, Peirce was not a miller and did not operate the mill himself. Instead, he hired other millers to do so. It remained in operation for more than six decades. The last commercial load ground was in 1897, when the main shaft broke, while a millwright named Alcibiades P. White was grinding a load of rye.
The Federal government bought the mill as part of Rock Creek Park and it was restored as a Public Works Administration project, completed in March 1936, at a cost of $26,614. Operation began again in October of 1936 under the supervision of miller Robert A. Little. The mill was used from December 1, 1936 until 1958 to provide flour for government cafeterias. Eventually, however, due to a lack of trained millwrights and lack of water in the millrace, it again discontinued operating as a mill, and was used from that time forward as an historical site.
There was a brief period, between 1993 and 1997, that the mill was closed once again. A restoration effort was begun by the Friends of Peirce Mill, and the mill was restored with the support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The mill officially reopened in October of 2011.
Peirce Mill is currently open from April 1st through October 31st from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m, Wednesday through Sunday. During the month of November it is open on only Saturdays and Sundays, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. And from December through the end of March it is open from noon to 4:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. But the best time to plan a visit is on the 2nd or 4th Saturday of each month between April and October, when the National Park Service typically runs mill operation demonstrations.
Note: I recently ran across the following photo in the Library of Congress, taken sometime between the 1880s and 1910s. It depicts men riding bikes near Peirce Mill, showing that people have been riding bikes to and near the mill for over a hundred years.