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News: Millstones: No Burden in the Garden!


January 11, 2019

A Garden History & Design One Minute Report from the Archives of American Gardens

There is a saying that a heavy burden is like a “millstone around one’s neck.” In fact, the Oxford Dictionary has a second definition for a millstone as “a heavy and inescapable responsibility.” However, some gardeners have made light of millstones by incorporating them into their gardens. Originally used for food production and industrial purposes, they have been adapted for both utilitarian and decorative purposes today.

Millstones were used to grind grain since the dawn of man. They functioned as important tools  in the Egyptian, Greek and Roman empires and there are several millstone references in the Bible. In the United States they date back as far as the colonial period. The first American millstone was mentioned in the Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay From 1623-1636.1

Millstones were made from a variety of stone which has contributed to their longevity and is why many of them, while obsolete as tools, are still around today. Rather than being cast aside, these massive stones have been integrated into gardens as stepping stones, water features, and decorative pieces. Different shades of color and interesting, textural tooling marks, make millstones ornamental in their own right. Today’s gardens are an ideal repository of repurposed, recycled, and reclaimed features like millstones.


(Left) Traugott Bagge House, Winston-Salem, NC.  Laura Mitchell, photographer, May 2003.


(Right) Edward and Louise Carter Garden, Wayne, PA. Doris Eller, photographer. April 2003


Images from The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens.


By Rachel Jacobson, GCA Garden History and Design Intern, June 2016.

1 Hockensmith, Charles D. The Millstone Industry. Jefferson: McFarland & Co., Inc. Publishers, 2009.


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