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Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust collection


Held at: Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust [Contact Us]P.O. Box 42, Chester Springs, PA, 19425

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

"Toward the middle of the 18th-century, Samuel Lightfoot built a grist mill at Anselma [West Pikeland Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania] on the Pickering Creek. With the Mill as magnet to both farmers and commerce, Lightfoot soon became the largest taxpayer in Pikeland as well as a leader in its religious and political life. For 65 years the Mill prospered under the Lightfoot family, passing in 1777 to Samuel's son, William, and finally to the grandson, Samuel, twenty years later.

"In 1812 the Mill was sold to Lewis Rees and James Benson of Reading who, 10 years later, conveyed the property to Rees Sheneman. The Shenemans lavished attention on the miller's house, choosing to leave the Mill unchanged as it reached and passed its centennial year of continuous operation.

"In 1859 Elias Oberholtzer purchased the mill and turned it over to his son, John, who ran it successfully for over a decade. In February 1871, John was injured as he tried to free the frozen water wheel. After the accident John turned his thoughts to developing the commercial potential of his property and built a store close to the Conestoga Road to market the mill's products and other items needed by the farmers. The next year John and his neighbors brought in a branch of the Pickering Valley Railroad, establishing "Cambria" station and post office, which were soon joined by a commercial creamery and ice house.

"While nurturing John's business instincts, the Mill became muse to the writing talents of his wife, Sarah Louisa Vickers Oberholtzer. Most appropriately, one of her more famous works was At the Old Mill.

"Allen Simmers, an apprentice of the Oberholtzers, purchased the Mill in 1886. Simmers upgraded the mill systems and installed the Fitz water wheel. In 1919 he sold the Mill to Oliver E. Collins for $2,800. Under Collins, the Mill began the transition from a community enterprise to the embodiment of a single man's ability to forge a 20th-century living from an 18-century technology.

"No less a miller than his predecessors, Oliver Collins continued to honor the miller's primary purpose of grinding grain by maintaining the age-old process and machinery. While he created new functions to supplant a dying grist-mill business, Collins never changed the mill itself or discarded any of its contents. Demonstrating true country ingenuity, he successfully operated a sawmill, a cider press, metal working machinery, the Anselma Post office and did lawn mower repairs and barbering to support himself, his family and his beloved Mill. Superseded by a fast moving technology, his installations represent a way of industrial life as obsolete in today's world as that of his predecessors at the mill."

Anselma's last miller, Oliver Ernest Collins, passed away in 1982. The property was acquired by the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust before the Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust was formed in 1998 to operate the mill as an historic site.


Quoted text from: The Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust, Inc. The Mill at Anselma: The Man, The Significance. Chester Springs, PA: 2000.

This collection includes original manuscript materials from previous owners of the Mill at Anselma, oral histories, photographs, blueprints of the mill and property, newspaper clippings, and other materials relating to the Mill at Anselma and surrounding locations such as Chester Springs and East Nantmeal Township (Chester County, Pennsylvania).

Original manuscript material in the collection includes: about a dozen 19th century deeds and other property records; a ledger with an annual report of the Pickering Valley Railroad (1900); two Allen H. Simmers daybooks (1909-1911 and 1909-1913); and a small amount of Collins family documents such as correspondence, certificates of achievement, some old catalogs, and a few volumes. The Collins family volumes consist of: tax valuations for school taxes (1915) and road taxes (1916) done by Alfred W. Collins, a tax collector for East Nantmeal Township; a 1938 daybook with a list of lawn mowers sharpened; an account book, 1922-1927, for mill activities; a 20th century daybook of mill activities; and an O. E. Collins account book with loose documents in it, 1927-1950.

There are about a dozen audiocassette tapes of oral history interviews, some with members of the Collins family, some transcribed.

A variety of photographs are present in the collection, many in black and white, though some are in color. Some photographs were taken by the Hagley Museum and Library in 1972 documenting the mill and property, but others date from both earlier and later periods. The earlier photographs, circa 1920s, depict the village, people, and railroad in and around Anselma. Some of these images are copies, while others are original; some are captioned. There are also a few original prints of an artist's renditions of the mill and local scenery.

The collection includes a large number of blueprints, many formatted for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) programs. The HABS blueprints were drawn by John R. Bowie, 1984-1986. There are also restoration plans from Frens & Frens LLC architects, circa 2001, and other blueprints in the collection.

Other materials in the collection include subject files with research material about people associated with the mill or its history, for example, Sarah Oberholtzer. Most of the research material is secondary source, such as photocopies and printouts of related primary-source materials from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Hagley Museum and Library. A CD of Anselma photos, slide presentation scripts, about 50 slides, and a small number of newspaper clippings are also present in the collection.

Materials collected by Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust from various sources over time.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust directly for more information.

Mill at Anselma Preservation and Educational Trust
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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