Places hold memories for the ages. If I show you this c.1965 picture of the Olde Grist Mill, a delicious Indian Pudding might spring to mind or maybe your first job waiting tables. You probably won’t reminisce about riding in a horse drawn wagon full of corn harvested from your family fields, on your way to the grist mill to have it ground into meal by miller Perkins, but your great-grandmother might have.
Captain Thomas Perkins, Jr. and two of his sons built the Perkins Tidal Grist Mill to work on the outgoing tide in 1749. The eldest son, Eliphalet was the first miller and Abner was the second miller. A beautifully penned deed from the Abner Perkins Collection refers to the “Grist Mill lately built upon Long Creek, in the building of which mill & damn, the said Abner for his part, hath been all along aiding & assisting.” One of Abner Perkins’s account books from the 1760s is also in the Abner Perkins Collection. In his account book, Abner recorded only facts and figures of his various 18th Century transactions.
The Kennebunkport Historical Society has the account book of Abner’s nephew, Tristram Perkins, who inherited 1/3 of the mill from his father James. Tristram became the miller in his early twenties but he may have longed to sow some oats of his own before settling down to the old grind. His grist mill account figures are often interrupted by penmanship practice, philosophical musings, poetry, song lyrics and word problems. An 1823 entry announces that he has begun keeping a singing school. Annie Peabody Brooks, a schoolteacher at The Townhouse School and the town’s first librarian, recalls in her book Ropes Ends that Tristram Perkins had the sweetest singing voice and told the most marvelous fictional stories about Kennebunkport of old. A lifelong bachelor, he operated the mill until the 1850s.
Tristram’s cousin Joseph K Perkins mortgaged the mill to D.W Lord and then arranged to sell the whole property to neighbor, Geo Miller in 1856 on condition that the old mill building and machinery were removed from the lot within 90 days. These conditions were not met, thank goodness
.In 1862, the Mill was sold to Simon N. Perkins of Cape Porpoise, who was no relation to the Perkins family who built and ran the mill until then. Simon’s son, James D. Perkins took over in 1868. He added D.W. Lord’s Pig Barn to the wharf behind the mill in 1879/80 and bought secondhand French Buhrstone millstones from E.J. Hatch in New York to replace the old broken ones, in 1886.
His son James C. Perkins was the last miller at the Perkins Grist Mill. When he retired in 1937, his daughter Louise turned the mill into a tearoom with her husband Arthur Lombard. They expanded the successful restaurant several times during its 50 years in business. Their son, David Lombard was the last owner of the ancient Grist Mill, though when it burned, a deal had been struck to sell the property.
Twenty-six years ago next Monday the Olde Grist Mill succumbed to arson. I have heard lots of theories about who set the fire and why but there was not enough evidence to bring charges so i’ll not spread unsubstantiated gossip.