With his cropped hair and brushy auburn beard, Jason Twigg looks like he should be fronting an indie rock band in Brooklyn. Instead, the western Maryland native is a miller, practicing the centuries-old art of turning grain into flour at the equally old Stanton’s Mill in Grantsville, built in 1797 at the foot of the rugged green Alleghenies in Garrett County.
Under Twigg’s care, millstones in the 213-year-old mill grind corn into grits and meal and red wheat into graham flour. Twigg grinds rye, too, and buckwheat. He sells his stone-ground grains at the neighboring Penn Alps Restaurant and Craft Shop, where his buckwheat pancake mix makes the restaurant’s flapjacks “taste a little better,” according to restaurant manager Lenice Plas. “I think they have more flavor.”
It’s impressive work for someone who started his milling career by peeking through the mill window several years ago to see the woodworking equipment in an adjoining room. During that look around, Twigg, a carpenter by trade, met John Childers, a miller from Kentucky responsible for bringing the mill back to life in 2002.
Twigg had an interest in grist mills and was so taken with this one that he volunteered there once a week for a year and a half, learning the trade from Childers. When Childers was ready to move on in 2008, Twigg “just sort of stepped in” as the mill’s proprietor.
“I basically just wanted to grind flour and keep the mill going,” he says with a grin. Each Friday and Saturday throughout the year, he does just that.
Although the mill now uses electricity rather than water power from the Casselman River, Twigg practices his trade largely in the way it was done circa 1860-1889, the period the renovated mill replicates. To grind buckwheat, for example, Twigg flips a switch, and two round stones, flat sides facing one another, begin to move. He then pours buckwheat down a trough called a shoe, which directs the buckwheat between the top (or “bed”) stone and the bottom (or “runner”) stone, where it is crushed. Centrifugal force pushes the flour out to the rim of the runner stone and into a bucket.
“Stone grinding is directly derived from using a mortar and pestle,” says Twigg above the thrum. And even though many mills make the claim
For instance, after the buckwheat is ground, Twigg must transfer the flour, still dotted with hulls, into the sifter, a long rectangular box equipped with a stainless-steel mesh screen, where the hulls are filtered out, leaving a smooth finished product. (He saves the hulls for certain customers, who use them for garden mulch or to stuff pillows.)
The mill’s main room contains equipment from its different eras: a roller mill which became popular in the 1860s; a pistachio-green metal mill with an 1889/1903 patent date; and an old scale. Everything is coated with a fine layer of dust.
Historically, the grist mill was the local community center where farmers brought their grain and caught up on town news. Twigg’s milling, however, is mostly solitary, though he’s always happy to talk about the place with folks who stop by.
He’ll show them the stones and tell them about the five generations of Stantons who worked here. He may also tell them about the satisfaction he finds in his work, and the connection he feels with those who’ve come before.
“I really like being a miller,” he says with quiet enthusiasm. “It fits me pretty good, I think.”
Stanton’s Mill is located at 84 Casselman Road in Grantsville, Maryland. For more information, call 301-895-4415.