The first is Greenbank Mills and Philips Farm.
Greenbank is a water-powered mill, built in the 1750s, run by Robert Philips in the late 1700 and early 1800s. It was one of the earliest automated mills in the country, using Oliver Evans system. In 1810 the family built a woolen mill called the Madison Factory, named after President James Madison. In 1815 the family had 300 sheep to supply wool to the mill. Find out more here: http://www.greenbankmill.com
Greenbank offers a series of educational programs for school kids, and tours and teas for adults. Want to lean about daily life in the New Republic, a time when people were trying to figure out what it meant to be American? Want to learn about the process of milling grain? Want to see how a water system works to power a mill? Want to learn why farmers changed from raising multi-purpose animals to single purpose animas in the Industrial Revolution? Want to learn to spin and weave? Greenbank is the place to learn all that, and more.
My association with Greenbank started when I told a friend and Civil War buff that I was writing an historic novel set in 1892. He told me I needed to get into the cloths my characters wore and do the things they did. The Civil War was a good place to start. There is no shortage of events around here. We happen to have a Civil War prison camp a few miles and a short boat ride from my home.
So I made myself a Quarter woman's outfit (no hoops, thank you) and headed for Pea Patch Island, and Fort Delaware.
Once I had the clothing I had to wear it more than once. When our local tourist railway reopened after damage to the trestles from Floyd, I put on my outfit and went to see the train. The Wilmington and Western runs steam trains a few miles up the track to a picnic grove, and back. Since I was in period clothing, I could have ridden the train for free, but I decided to find out what was on the other side of the bridge.
To my amazement, the bridge led to a gristmill from the turn of the century. That is the 18th to the 19th centurie. I stayed to work with the heritage sheep and the educational programs for both kids and adults. This required a whole new outfit.
Much to my amazement, I found I wanted to do everything. I started out simple; I made soap and candles. Then I did some simple cooking over an open fire. I am neither a proficient cook, nor a skillful fire maker. I liked the sheep. I had worked with horses for years, so the sheep seemed easy. Since those early beginnings I have plowed a field with horses, worked oxen, butchered a sheep.
My friend was right. The skills I have practiced do show up in my writing. Maybe my character doesn't run the mill, but she knows what the clothing feels like, how it both restricts her and frees her. She knows what it is like to hunker beside a hearth fire and stir the cornmeal mush for hours 'til it thickens. She knows what it is like to have to carry all the water used in the house from the stream or the well, and what it means to do chores by candlelight or fire light.
My first published work was a kids' book I wrote for Greenbank. Farmer's Daughter, Miller's Son is set in 1816. The protagonists are John Philips and his sister Catherine. Real kids in a real family. I had little idea what actually happened that spring, but I knew enough to put together a story. What I do know is they farm cut back the flock of sheep from 300 to 150. The new section had been added to the house the year before. But more important was that these two kids wanted something, and struggled to get it. The sheep in the cover painting is Betsy, our Marino ewe.