Saving the Old Mill
By Kelli Huggins / Visitor Experience Coordinator
The Catskill Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019. We’ll be sharing some posts throughout the year about the Catskill Center’s history and important role in our area.
In 1860, David Josiah Hanford purchased a sawmill (which had been built in 1846) and with the power of the water that flows in Kortright Creek, the Hanford family milled lumber at the East Meredith site until 1945.
In that 85-year span, the Hanford family built additional water- and steam-powered mills, added a hardware store, as well as a woodworking shop.
In 1966, Ken Kelso - a dairy farmer and businessman - took ownership of the site. Kelso envisioned the property as a place where visitors could experience traditional rural industry and life in an entertaining way. A columnist in the Oneonta Star declared there was local interest in Kelso’s plans because “much of the land involved was settled by our ancestors” and referred to it as a “Disneyland of the East.” 
Before refrigeration, successful ice harvests were vital.
When the winter ice on lakes, ponds, and even rivers was properly thick, men would bring their saws and cut blocks to store in ice houses.
In 1972, Kelso sought to sell the site to a group that could further his goal. Dr. Sherret S. Chase and Peter Borelli (the president of the board and executive director of the Catskill Center, respectively) rallied to make the purchase. In a letter from December 1972, Chase wrote, “Are you acquainted with the Kelso mill complex? This is an extremely valuable regional asset and should be, as Mr. Kelso wishes, taken over by some state or public interest agency able to develop it as a first class museum and interpretive center.”
With Dr. Frank Cyr and other local leaders, they formed the Old Mill Museum (a non-profit organization) and bought the complex. The group consulted with experts from the New York State Historical Association and other historical preservation organizations to best determine how to preserve and interpret the site. In 1973, the New York State Board of Regents gave the Old Mill Museum its charter and the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To better acknowledge the Hanford family’s place in the history of the property, the name was changed to the Hanford Mills Museum.
In the 46 years since, Hanford Mills Museum has maintained its committment to serving and educating local communities as well as visitors from afar. Today, interpretation at the museum looks to the future as much as the past and explores ideas such as, can the mill’s history of sustainable power and land use inform decisions we make as a society going forward?
To witness their mission in action, tours of the site are available during the museum’s regular hours and Hanford Mills hosts numerous popular events, such as the annual Ice Harvest Festival. Before refrigeration, successful ice harvests were vital. When the winter ice on lakes, ponds, and even rivers was properly thick, men would bring their saws and cut blocks to store in ice houses. The insulated ice houses preserved the ice and allowed it to be used throughout the year, especially in the hot summer months. Commercial ice harvesters would store tons of ice and sell and deliver it to homes and businesses to cool people’s ice boxes. Ice was vitally important for farmers, who used it to preserve butter and milk. A good harvest was necessary to keep ice prices down; it there wasn’t enough local ice, it would have to be shipped in from afar on the railroads, which made it less affordable.
The 2019 Ice Harvest Festival is on February 2 from 10am-3pm. Learn more about the mill and even try your hand at harvesting ice the old-fashioned way.
And be certain to visit the Catskill Center table at the event and take part in our first-ever Catskills Art Club meetup!
All images are courtesy of Hanford Mills Museum.
To learn more about visiting Hanford Mills and the Ice Harvest Festival, please visit www.hanfordmills.org.
 Special thanks to Kajsa Harley and the staff at Hanford Mills Museum for providing the information for this blog post. Any information not otherwise cited was graciously shared by Hanford Mills.
 “Around Town,” Oneonta Star, April 9, 1968, 4.
 Sherret S. Chase to Diantha Schull, December 21, 1972. Catskill Center Archival Collection.
 Freeman’s Journal, October 23, 1973, 46.
The Hanford Mills Museum in the small Delaware County hamlet of East Meredith maintains and operates a historic mill, educates thousands of visitors and students each year, and interprets our agricultural and industrial past. In short, it is a vital resource for understanding our community’s past and how we can work toward a more sustainable future. But that role was once less certain and the preservation of the mill was the result of the hard work, foresight, and persistence of community members and organizations, including the Catskill Center.