County: Sussex County
For centuries rural grist mills dotted the rivers and streams of northwestern New Jersey with industry and agriculture working together and creating the communities surrounding them. The Casper and Abraham Shafer Grist Mill is a 19th-century intact example of one of these mills. Located in Stillwater Township, Sussex County it was built in 1844 by Rev. Casper Schaeffer upon the burned ruins of his previous mill. This 3 ½-story, side-gabled building was situated on the village Main Street among residential dwellings, commercial establishments, and workshops. The mill drew water from the Paulinskill River via a raceway to drive its turbine-powered machinery. In 2009 the mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a significant example of early sustainable technology and masterful craftsmanship.
Casper Shafer (1712-1784) was a founding leader of the group of Pennsylvania Germans who in the 1740s settled much of what is today Stillwater Township and founded the village of Stillwater. Schafer, a large landowner and a leader of this community, became a significant political figure in Sussex County, and he represented the county in both the New Jersey Provincial Congress that declared the independence of New Jersey in 1776, and in the state legislature from 1777 through 1779. His son Abraham Shafer inherited his father’s estate which he rebuilt and enlarged in 1796-97. This mill burned in 1844 and the present building was constructed, taking advantage of the footprint and some portion of the walls of the 1790s mill. The present building was turbine-driven from the beginning, but the Leffel turbine mechanism still in place was installed in 1893. The mill continued to be maintained and operated until 1977.
Willard Klemm, a local farmer, bought the mill and 15 acres in 1972 and with another farmer Gus Roof began to restore the structure and leaking dam. They restarted the turbine using waterpower and began to grind the grain they grew on their hundreds of acres of local farmland. Enthusiastic about saving their mill they began opening it on weekends for family visits and created a brochure highlighting mill activities including hayrides, nature walks and horse rides all on the mill property. Local school groups came on field trips to learn the history of an industrial operation of the past. Roof and Klemm continued the not so profitable but rewarding operation for about 10 years before selling it to a local businessman as a site for a family business. The business use never happened. Gus Roof with the assistance of a group of skilled friends went on to restore other mills in the area including the Waterloo Mill, the Blairstown Mill and others throughout the state. The mill sat empty for the next 25 years and began to deteriorate.
Sadly, the Mill has set idle since the 1980’s but has not lost its importance to the community. Local residents raised approx. $23,000 in the mid 1990’s towards stabilization of the structure. They used the funds to repair the roof, install new windowsills, repair the front door, replace a few oak columns and the concrete flooring on the first floor.
Since being purchased by Green Acres and becoming part of NJDEP Swartswood State Park (2010) the structure receives little care or maintenance due to minimal funding. Since State ownership locks have been changed and the building is falling into disrepair The Stillwater Historical Society offers some site assistance but it’s not enough to preserve the mill.
The Schafer Mill has a community that wants to preserve it and is in savable condition. However, if the water infiltration, leaky roof and an infestation of powder post beetles are not addressed the mill will face the fate of many similar historic industrial buildings. The Historical Society of Stillwater Township has raised $7500 and is working with Swartswood State Park Superintendent and local officials to preserve this historic structure. They have pursued information on State grant programs such as those offered by the New Jersey Historic Trust.
Preservation New Jersey encourages the state of New Jersey to work with local supporters of the mill to save this important industrial resource.
Stillwater Historical Society