When Garland Mill began operations in
1856 – five years before the start of the Civil
War – there were more than 600 water-powered sawmills in New Hampshire. One
hundred-sixty years later, the Lancaster
mill is one of only three water-powered
sawmills still in operation in the state.
The water that powers the mill comes
from Garland Brook, an inconspicuous
little stream flowing from the Kilkenny
Mountain Range, which rises to the east
of the mill in a series of rugged summits,
some higher than 4,000 feet. Just upstream from Garland Mill,
the brook seems narrow enough to cross with a good leap, but
at certain times of year there is enough water here to continue
the work of sawing lumber.
The mill, and its sister timber-framing and construction
company, have allowed cousins Ben and Dana Southworth to
make a living in the business they purchased from their fathers
in 2010. Garland Mill now produces between 30,000 and
40,000 board feet of lumber each year, with the majority of that
used by Garland Mill Timberframes, the timber framing and
construction side of the business. Most of the logs sawn here
are white pine, sourced from within 20 miles of the mill and
purchased from a handful of local loggers the Southworths have
worked with for years.
“I can effectively saw for only two months each year, in early
spring and late fall [when the brook is flowing],” said Dana
Southworth, who oversees the milling side of the business.
“We’re strategic in what we cut. We can saw a 35-foot timber
without too much trouble. It’s pretty difficult to go out and buy
something like that.”
The Southworths are the third set of second-generation mill
operators at Garland Mill. Original owner Eben Garland sold
the mill to his son Charles. Together, the Garlands ran the mill
for 32 years, before selling it in 1888 to William Alden, who
eventually sold it to his son Harold. The Aldens owned the
Garland Mill for 86 years, and Harold Alden continued to run
the mill until he was in his seventies.
In 1973, Yankee magazine ran a “House for Sale” feature on
Garland Mill and the accompanying house and surrounding
property. Some 300 buyers showed interest in purchasing the
property, but most did not have any intent to maintain mill
operations. One who did was Tom Southworth, a businessman
from Philadelphia, who moved north with his wife, Nancy, and
their young family. Tom apprenticed at the mill with Harold
Alden for nearly a full year before buying the place in 1974.
Three years later, his brother Harry migrated north with his
By Meghan McCarthy McPhaul
Harnessing the Power of Water
family, and joined his brother in the mill business.
The younger Southworths grew up in Lancaster, helping out
at the mill before moving on to other places and other work, Ben
to various locales in the U.S. and to Norway for a time, Dana
to a master’s degree in international economics and several
years working in Washington, D.C., and the post-communist
Balkans. But the pull of home and the sweet smell of sawdust
proved strong: Ben returned to Lancaster and the mill in 2002,
Dana in 2004, and they worked out a five-year buyout plan with
their fathers, taking over the business in 2010.
“Working with both my hands and my mind is really
satisfying,” said Dana. “And I wanted to come back to this place
to be with my family and raise my children close to the people
I love most.”
Garland Mill has maintained its small town sense of
community, donating timberframe structures for the local
skating rink and trails association and a warming hut for the
town’s Mount Prospect ski area.
While Dana manages the mill and some of the timberframe design work, Ben handles whole-house construction and
design of energy efficient houses. Together they manage the
innumerable aspects of running a small business, from sales
and pricing to planning and scheduling projects. Like their
dozen employees, both Southworths can handle each part of
the business if necessary – milling lumber, fitting frames, raising
timbers, and fixing the myriad mechanical problems that arise
when operating a 160-year-old mill.
“When my uncle bought the mill, Harold Alden told him he’d
have to know how to fix everything,” said Dana. “That’s still true.
There are no more nineteenth-century millwrights running
around. You just have to roll up your sleeves and do it.”
The millwrights may be gone, but the power at Garland Mill
is generated much the same way it was 160 years ago, albeit with
some minor modern upgrades. Water flows from the brook
through a penstock (plastic now, rather than wood) to fill the
wheel pit. As the water falls into the wheel pit it hits the diagonal