The Taylor Saw Mill – July 9, 2011
Sitting in the Ballard State Forest, the 200 year-old, Taylor Sawmill Historic Site is not only a tribute to New Hampshire’s forestry heritage, but also a real live, working piece of history. Operating every 2nd and 4th Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Taylor Sawmill offers visitors a chance to get up close and see what went into producing timber before electricity, gasoline engines, or even steam power.
Drawing energy from the water wheel just outside the building, pulleys and gears attach to a long saw blade that drives it up and down, slowly trimming boards from huge pine logs. Bob Spoerl, the on-site caretaker, oversees the property and harvests lumber from the adjoining state forest. He clearly takes pride in demonstrating the sawmill’s 17th century technology. Taking time between greeting visitors, hoisting massive logs in to place, and making a quick saw repair, Bob takes the time to make you feel involved and to explain the process from debarking to cutting.
Inside the rustic wood mill house, the big jagged saw blade stood straight up in the center of the room, shining in the sun it immediately caught my attention. Looking around a little more I found the walls full of history with displays of old hand made nails, antique tools, and historic black and white photos of the property. Just as I was getting lost in the history of the place, the guys hoisted a big white timber up, ready for the saw.
Watching these pine logs transformed from trees into straight flat boards was quite an experience and gave me a new appreciation for the history and effort that goes into producing lumber. Before the logs even get to the saw every piece of bark is trimmed away by hand with care take not to cut into the wood.
Next comes the heavy lifting. After measuring the log for clearance, they pry, heave and roll it on to the saw. Once the log is lined up and the cut is ready to be made, a big wood lever opens a gate, diverting water over the wheel, and slowly the saw comes to life. Picking up pace as the water wheel moves faster, the saw jerks up and down throwing wood shavings everywhere as it works its way down the log.
It isn’t everyday you get a chance to actually experience a piece of history, but visiting the Taylor Sawmill you can hear, see, and feel exactly what it is was like to produce timber 200 years ago. It’s an opportunity to step back in time and appreciate New Hampshire’s heritage at one of its more unique state parks.