Hewitt Sawmill

by Bill. Ryan

John Hewitt was an expert builder and contractor who arrived in St. Augustine before the American Revolution in 1768. He obtained a 1,000 acre property near Pellicer Creek in what is now Flagler County and shortly thereafter built a sophisticated water powered sawmill. Many homes in old St. Augustine may have been constructed with his lumber. He did much construction during the British period including the steeple for St. Peter’s Church and the State House. The mill was a hydraulic type, highly advanced for the period.

In Florida there were no mill races with flowing water such as in the north. A large collection pound was dug using slave labor and fed from slowly flowing water from Pellicer Creek. When the pond was sufficiently full a series of water gates regulated its flow to a power system driven by ‘flutter wheels.’ Such a mill was the highest example of pre-revolution technology. This slash mill with its up-and-down steel saw was said to be capable of cutting 500 to 1,000 feet of lumber per day, far above that possible with pit saws worked by slaves. This was a highly sophisticated, hydraulic system for its time with a complex system of levers and gates to regulate the movement of water energy and the logs to be cut with the up-and-down blade.  (see collection pond layout)

Following the American Revolution St. Augustine was packed with escaping loyalists to the British Crown thus causing a great housing shortage. Hewitt Mill was certainly in full operation during this period. It is not known exactly when the Mill was abandoned. Researchers believe the structure which was two stories high with a nearby colonial era house was destroyed during the Patriot War 1812-1813. Many of the historic structures in St. Augustine may have originated with lumber cut at building contractor Hewitt’s Mill.

The site was carefully researched by historian William M Jones in 1977 and many artifacts were located, now being stored at the Florida Agricultural Museum. Mr. Jones also constructed a large model of a working mill of this design. The property was donated to the Agricultural Museum in 2008 and an archaeological park established that contains the remains of the sawmill, a large earthen dam, waterways, borrow pits, colonial houses, roads and other sites. Water still flows through the earth dam constructed by slave labor so many years ago. It was deemed possible at some time to reconstruct a working model of the mill which would be unique.

Old Kings Road, was constructed by the British in 1767-1772 from Georgia to the new colony of Minorcan settlers in New Smyrna Florida, a journey of some 106 miles. This early roadway was located near to Hewitt’s Mill. It is likely that many passed by the working mill including the residents of the failed colony in New Smyrna. They were known to have travelled up Old Kings Road in 1777.

During the Seminole War which began in December of 1835 records show that General Hernandez established a food cache at the old mill site to feed both Indians and the accompanying desperate negro slaves who had either been taken by Indians in raids or escaped from the burned plantations to join with the Seminoles. It was said they were starving and needed food to reach the safety of Fort Peyton to the north on Old Kings Road. It was also likely that Seminole leader Osceola and his group camped near here as they arrived for a white flag parley with the Army General. World attention was later devoted when they were captured and imprisoned in St. Augustine under a white flag of truce.

The site was donated to the Florida Agricultural Museum and signage located. A half mile trail leads to the archaeological ruins of this 1770 Revolutionary War mill crossing over the 18th century earth dam and the Hewitt’s Branch, the stream that runs through the middle of the park. Within this area are the remains of colonial buildings, Old Kings Highway, and a gopher tortoise habitat.
Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze plaque at the mill site.  A section of Old Kings Road ran north from the Hewitt Mill site and on land managed by the St. Johns Water Management District was cleared to follow an original British built causeway that terminated at the "Double Bridges" location across Pellicer Creek.

It was hoped that a public walkway north on Old Kings Road would be possible from the Hewitt Mill site.

Wooden pilings associated with the wooden bridge that spanned Pellicer Creek are still in place.  These may represent repair work done after construction in 1772 to the last usage in the early 20th Century.  Cypress, live oak and pine are native trees in this portion on St. Johns County and their timbers preserve well even in very wet environments.  remnants of iron spikes in these pilings remain.  The causeway ran south through the swamp for about 95 meters to a point where higher ground began.(2)

A model was constructed to show the interior works of the Hewitt Mill and is on display at the Florida Agricultural Museum.  A complex series of levers regulated the action of the mill.

Map showing location was
drawn by William M. Jones

 

 

 

A British Period Sawmill” by William M. Jones El Escribano (original document Flagler County Historical Society Annex)

(2)Report - Dana Ste Claire August 8 2007 to Bill Ryan - email

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