About Thad Parsons

Thad Parsons, III received his doctorate in late 2009 from the University of Oxford for his work on science collection and exhibition during the post-Second World War period in the United Kingdom. He is the Visitor and Museum Services Coordinator at the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum, which is located at the United States Patent and Trademark Office's Campus in Alexandria, VA. He currently resides near Alexandria, VA and can be contacted through his website: http://www.rtp3.com/

McMillan Sand Filtration Site, Washington, D.C.

Are you looking for something off the tourist track?  What about something that at first sight makes little sense?  Then the McMillan Sand Filtration Site is for you!  Unfortunately, it is closed to visitors but you can the site is bounded by (and you can get good views of it from) North Capitol Street, Channing Street NW, 1st Street NW, and Michigan Avenue NW.  Today, one can glimpse the two paved courts that are lined by regulator houses, tower-like sand bins, sand washers and the gated entrances to the underground filter cells.  Below grade at the twenty-five acre site, there are twenty catacomb-like cells, each an acre in extent, where sand was used to filter water from the Potomac River by way of the Washington Aqueduct.  The treatment was a slow sand filter – a biological treatment system that provided a slow, steady flow of clean water.  For large-scale municipal purposes, the slow sand filter is inefficient and it was replaced in 1985 with a rapid sand filter (which is located across First Street at the McMillan Reservoir.

Diagram of the Washington City Tunnel by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Before water can be purified, it must get to the McMillan complex and it has always arrived the same way, via the Washington Aqueduct.  The aqueduct was commissioned by Congress in 1852 and construction began in 1853 under the auspices of the US Army Corps of Engineers (who still own and operate the system).  It gradually opened starting on 3 January 1859, was fully open in 1864, and has been in continuous use since.  Water travels through the pipeline from Great Falls to the Dalecarlia Reservoir, and then to the Georgetown Reservoir.  From Georgetown, the water leaves via the “castle” on McArthur Boulevard NW, through an arrow-straight tunnel to the pumping house on 4th Street at the McMillan Reservoir.  The aqueduct is listed as a National Historic Landmark, and the Union Arch Bridge within the system is listed as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

McMillan sand filtration site under construction. Photo by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The McMillan reservoir, which still holds untreated water for D.C., opened in 1902 and is a dammed stream valley.  The water that flowed through the valley became Tiber Creek and flowed into the Potomac following what is now Constitution Avenue. To clean the water before it was distributed to residents, a filtering plant also had to be constructed as part of the McMillan complex.  At the turn of the 20th century, there was a debate regarding the best practice to purify water – chemical (e.g. chlorine) versus biological (e.g. slow sand).  In D.C., slow sand filtration won out and Congress provided the Army Corp of Engineers with money to build the McMillan Sand Filtration Site.

Photo of Sand Pit being filled with sand. Photo from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Sand filtration is pretty simple.  Dirty water enters the pit, which contains a two-foot layer of sand, percolates through the sand and is clean when it reaches the bottom, where it is drawn off by a pipe.  While the operation of the filter is simple, the process by which it cleans the water is not.  A slow sand filter works because of the formation of a gelatinous layer called the hypogeal layer or Schmutzdecke in the top few millimetres of the fine sand layer.  It forms in the first couple weeks of operation and consists of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, rotifera, and aquatic insect larvae.  As the Schmutzdecke ages, more algae develops and larger aquatic organisms appear, including bryozoa, snails and Annelid worms.  The Schmutzdecke provides effective purification in potable water treatment, while the underlying sand provides a support medium for this biological treatment layer.  The water produced from a well-managed slow sand filter can be of exceptionally good quality with 90-99% bacterial reduction.  Slow sand filters slowly lose their throughput volume as the Schmutzdecke grows, and it necessary to refurbish the filter to maintain volume (which means removing/disturbing the Schmutzdecke and allowing it to regrow).

The overgrown Clean Sand Silos.

Today, the most visible sign of the site’s history are the overgrown clean sand silos and regulator houses.  The rest of the site is covered in grass, as it was when it was designated the McMillan Reservoir Park in 1906 by Secretary of War William Howard Taft.  It was a memorial to to Senator James McMillan (R-Michigan) for his work as chairman of the Senate Commission on the Improvement of the Park System and his efforts in shaping the development of the city of Washington at turn of the century (aka the McMillan Plan).  After Taft became President, the site was officially designated a park by Congress in 1911.  Originally conceived as part of the “necklace of emeralds” that would ring the city in permanent open green space and restore much of L’Enfant’s original city plans.   In total, the forward-looking plans made by the McMillan Commission called for: re-landscaping the ceremonial core, consisting of the Capitol Grounds and Mall, including new extensions west and south of the Washington Monument; consolidating city railways and alleviating at-grade crossings; clearing slums; designing a coordinated municipal office complex in the triangle formed by Pennsylvanian Avenue, 15th Street, and the Mall, and establishing a comprehensive recreation and park system that would preserve the ring of Civil War fortifications around the city.  The implementation of the McMillan Plan involved the leading civil engineers, urban planners, artists, architects, and designers of the time and at the Reservoir alone, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., engineer Allen Hazen, sculptor Herbert Adams and architect Charles Platt were involved.  While the engineering work was paid for by the Army Corps, the landscaping work was paid for by the family of Senator McMillan.

Regulator houses such as this one contained valves for controlling the flow of water through each cell.

While it was a functional piece of real estate because of the sand filter, it was topped by “an imaginative combination of landscaped park … personally supervised by Olmsted.”  In a racially segregated D.C., the park was open to all and residents from the ethnically diverse local neighborhoods were delighted to use the park’s amenities.  Courting couples promenaded, families picnicked, and boy played ball games on top of the vaults full of white sand.  Unfortunately, because of security concerns about the safety of Washington’s water supply, the site was closed to the public during World War 2, when a fence was erected around the site; today, it is only open to special visitors and on specially arranged biannual tours.

From its’ completion in 1905 until the Army Corps sold the Sand Filtration Site in 1987, the site was protected from development.  In 1986, the Army Corp declared the land as surplus and the General Services Administration arranged to sale it.  The The District of Columbia government purchased the site in 1987 for $9.3M, in order to facilitate development. Since the time of purchase, the property has been vacant and has deteriorated severely due to lack of maintenance.  Today, the McMillan Park Committee is fighting to maintain it openness and historic character, while the D.C. government is  considering site for dense commercial and residential development. The following video provides an overview of the planning arguments surrounding the site and some great historic images of the area.

Museum at Azienda Agricola PoggioantinorA, Gaiole in Chianti, Siena

Open daily, Summer (Mon-Thu: 9am-6pm, Fri: 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun & Holidays: 10am-1pm) or Winter (Mon-Fri: Same, Sat-Sun & Holidays: By Reservation Only).  Tours can be arranged by appointment.  Phone +39 (0)577739440.

The Museum at Poggio Antinora is an interesting window into 19th and early 20th century rural Italian life.  It was created by the wife of the farm’s current owner, Laura, who is an art historian and museologist.  Focusing on the (extremely*) local community and the machines used to produce wine and olive oil, the small museum provides a great window into a part of the Italian past that has been forgotten.  While the museum only covers a couple of rooms, it is an interesting diversion from the real reason that one would visit here.

Poggio Antinora perches on the very top of a lovely hillside in the heart of the Chianti district near Gaiole-in-Chianti not far from Sienna.  The farm comprises 49 hectares (20 to vineyards, 4 to olives, 8 to seed, and the remainder to woodland) with the farmhouse majestically situated on the top of the hill at over 500 m. above sea level.  The house dates to 1234 and the current owner and wine maker, Luca Brandini, represents the 30th generation of the Brandini family to occupy the house and the 29th generation to make wine and oil!

* The social aspects of the museum focus on the tiny village that you drive through on the way to the farmhouse.  The focus on the tiny community helps to reinforce the isolated life that many in Italy lived during the 19th and early 20th century.

Torpedo Factory Art Center (and Alexandria Archaeology Museum), Alexandria, Virginia

Open daily from 10:00am to 6:00pm (except on Thursday when it is open until 9:00pm – Second Thursday Art Night is from 6 to 9p – and when it closed at 5:00pm because of a private function).  Closed New Year’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.  Individual studios are required to be open a minimum number of hours per week but actual schedules vary, while the larger group galleries and workshops have regular schedules (available here).  Metro accessible via the Blue or Yellow Lines to King Street, where the free trolley service will deliver you to the waterfront.

Aerial View of Torpedo Factory in 1920s

The Torpedo Factory Art Center is a world-renowned art center housed in an early twentieth-century munitions factory. Construction began on 12 November 1918 – the day after Armistice Day – and the building became known as the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station.  Its immediate post-World War One service was brief and as world-wide armament reductions occurred, the Alexandria factory was mothballed.  The facility continued to serve as a munitions storage facility and manufacture was able to resume shortly after the beginning of World War Two.  During the War, a number of torpedoes were built at the facility, including:

After the War, production stopped and the building reverted to a storage facility.  It was used by the Smithsonian to store art objects and dinosaur bones, by Congress to store documents, and by the Military to store German films and records acquired during the War.  In 1969, the building was purchased by the City of Alexandria and in 1974, the Torpedo Factory Art Center opened to the public.  After years of questionable working conditions, it was renovated in 1983 with some of the more artful touches that you can see today, such as the spiral stairs.

Today, the Torpedo Factory producing a wide-range of beautiful and interesting artwork but nothing that explodes!  Luckily for the interested visitor, some of the building’s history has been preserved in a number of exhibits, including this bright green target torpedo.  It was built at the factory in 1945 and is accompanied by its logbook of tests.  Besides this large display, there are smaller displays and wall panels that give further information about the building and its various uses.

Finally, it is also the home of the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, which works with citizens and professionals to manage the historic remnants of Alexandria.  The small museum has a number of displays about Old Town and is a useful resource center for historians interested in area attractions.

The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Open Monday to Friday from 11:00am – 4:00pm, the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments is presented in three display spaces: the main Putnam Gallery (Science Center 136), the Special Exhibitions Gallery (Science Center 251), and the Foyer Exhibition Space (Science Center 371).  The galleries are closed on University Holidays.  It is open to the public and admission is free.  Children must be supervised.  For inquiries, call 617-495-2779.  Nearest T Station is Harvard Square on the Red Line.

The collection of scientific instruments for teaching and research has been occurring at Harvard since 1672.  In 1948, the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments was established to preserve the rich legacy of science and technology present at Harvard.  In 1987, it was placed under the direction of Harvard’s Department of the History of Science.  Today, it is one of the largest university collections of its kind in the world with over 20,000 objects.  Covering periods from the fifteenth century until today and a broad range of scientific disciplines, it is an important research resource for the historian of science and the collection can be accessed online at Waywiser.

The Putnam Gallery contains the Collection’s permanent display, entitled “TIME, LIFE, & MATTER: Science in Cambridge”.  The exhibition is book-ended by two large pieces – a decorative orrery and a cyclotron console – and it covers everything from early astronomy and physics to psychology and physiology (download the thematic guide for full coverage).  The interested historian can find plenty to interest themselves for hours but the casual visitor can easily experience the permanent gallery in less than an hour.

The other exhibition spaces contain regular special exhibitions, details of which can be found online.

Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Old Patent Office Building, Washington, DC, circa 1846

Open daily from 11:30a.m. to 7:00p.m.  Admission Free.  The closest Metrorail Station is Gallery Place – Chinatown (it is serviced by the Red, Yellow, and Green lines).

The Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture is actually a collection of institutions housed in the Old Patent Office building.  These institutions are the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Lunder Conservation Center, and the Luce Foundation Center for American Art.

"Soldier's sleeping bunks," 1861 Hand-colored illustration from "Harper's Weekly," June 1, 1861 (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)

The Old Patent Office building was praised by Walt Whitman as “the noblest of Washington buildings” and is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States.  Begun in 1836 and finished in 1868, this “Temple of Invention” was one of the first public buildings in early Washington and was designed the office and repository for the Patent Office. Built on the third major site of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s famous 1792 plan of Washington (with the first being the Capital and the second being the White House), where he envisioned a “church of the republic”, the Jacksonian Revolution built a temple for a more practical purpose.  On July 4, 1836, Congress authorized the construction of a “national museum of the arts” and “a general repository of all the inventions and improvements in machinery and manufactures, of which our country can claim the honor.”  If you were a visitor to D.C. in the 1850s, the Patent Office Building was a top attraction and inside it one would have seen a hodgepodge of inventions, marvels and curiosities.  Besides the Patent Models, it was the home to many of the collections that would later become the foundations of the Smithsonian Institute’s museums of natural science, history, and art.  Throughout its history, it has been used for a variety of functions: it was a hospital that Whitman visited to read to the injured during the Civil War, it was used for Lincoln’s second inauguration in March 1865, and it was given to the Smithsonian in 1962.  Today, the traveler interested in the history of science and technology should proceed directly to the top floor to visit the Great Hall.

The Great Hall, Third Floor, Reynolds Center

The Great Hall, as seen today after the recent renovation of the building, was created after a fire in 1877 destroyed the third floor of the building.  It was remodeled by Adolf Cluss and and his partner, Paul Schulze.  The resulting interior space, originally called the Model Hall, is a dramatic riot of color.  Covered in encaustic tile and lit by stained glass windows, the hall celebrates great American scientists.  Four of them – Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, Thomas Jefferson, and Eli Whitney – are represented on large medallions in the corners of the Hall.   If one has entered the Model Hall from Robert Mills’ graceful double curved cantilevered stone staircases, turning right leads one down the Hall and into more of the Patent Office’s galleries.  Today they house the Luce Foundation Center for American Art, but provide the same service – a public study and storage center.  The Luce Foundation Center displays more than 3,000 objects and provides interactive kiosks for those interested in the items on display.  Additionally, for the weary traveler, free tea and coffee is provided in its small cafe.  If one continues through the Luce Foundation Center, one will find the Lunder Conservation Center – the first art conservation center that allows the public full view of conservation staff working to preserve artwork from the collections of both museums.

On the way out, I would suggest stopping on the Second Floor landing off of Mills’ stairs to see David Beck’s MVSEVM.  The model is designed to show the ‘inside story’ of the building and its history, and contains hundreds of model objects representing the range of materials displayed in the buildings at one time.  This intricate sculptural piece is a fascinating interpretation of building’s history into a physical form and is one of the few pieces of artwork I recommended to those interested in the history of science at these two museums.

Kogod Courtyard (Image Courtest of the Smithsonian Institute)

Finally, for those whose interest extends to modern architecture, a stroll through the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard is a must; Conde Nast named it one of the seven architectural wonders of the world.  Covered by an elegant glass canopy designed by Sir Norman Foster (note the striking similarity to the British Museum’s new roof), it is a relaxing place to rest one’s museum-weary feet.

Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

I then bequeath the whole of my property…to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge…

Portrait of James Smithson. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives)

In 1826, James Smithson (1765-1829) wrote his last will and testament with the above statement included in case his nephew died without an heir, as he did in 1835.  While his motivations have been lost to history, this will by a man who never visited the United States resulted in the creation of an educational, research, and preservation organization whose main public face is the largest museum complex in the world.

To get a sense of the enormity of the Smithsonian Institution, look at some of the numbers:

In 1826, when the will was written, there was no way that James Smithson could imagine the organization that would bear his name.  In 1836, President Andrew Jackson announced the gift to Congress and on 1 July 1836 Congress accepted it.  They pledged the faith of the United States to the charitable trust that would be founded with Smithson’s fortune.  Two years later in September 1838, the legacy of over 100,000 gold sovereigns arrived at the Philadelphia mint where it was recoined into over $500,000.  It would take another eight years for Congress to decide how to use the money!

The Castle from the National Mall. (Photo by Thad Parsons)

On 10 August 1846, President James K. Polk established the Smithsonian Institution as a charitable trust administered by a Board of Regents and overseen by the Secretary of the Smithsonian.  In late 1846, Joseph Henry (1797-1878) was named the first Secretary.  During his tenure, he focused on increasing and disseminating knowledge but was reluctant to establish a National Museum.  The first collections had arrived with Richard Rush, the lawyer that had successfully sued on the United State’s behalf for Smithson’s fortune in the British Chancery Court, and included his library and mineralogical collection.  Further objects were added in 1848 when Robert Hare of the University of Pennsylvania gifted scientific instruments and other donations were regularly made to the young Institute.  In 1855, the Smithsonian Institution Building, commonly known as the Castle, was completed as the administrative home of the Smithsonian.  It served as the home for Henry and his family, the main office, and from 1858 until the 1960s as an exhibition space.  Today, it still houses some administrative offices, is the home of the Smithsonian Information Center, contains Smithson’s crypt, holds special exhibitions, and has guided tours of the Institute’s and Castle’s history.

The interior of the new United States National Museum building, now the Arts and Industries Building, decorated for President James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur's Inaugural Ball, March 4, 1881. This was the first event held in the building. Electric lights were strung along the ceiling and the statue of America in the rotunda held an electric lamp in her hand. Buntings and flags decorated the walls and a wooden floor was laid for the event. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute)

While Henry actively discouraged collecting, including transferring portions of the collections to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress in 1865 and ’66, his successor focused on creating a great National Museum.  Spencer Fullerton Baird was Secretary from 1878 to 1887 and had been Henry’s assistant since 1850.  Baird’s goal was a comprehensive collection of the continent’s natural resources at the United States National Museum.  While working as Henry’s assistant, Baird was involved in several important national events.  In 1867, his testimony about the natural resources of Alaska helped to convince Congress to purchase the territory.  In the preparations for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Baird planned all of the government’s exhibitions and won the Smithsonian international visibility.  Additionally, he greatly expanded the Smithsonian’s collections by convincing exhibitors to donate the majority of their displays and he then convinced Congress to construct a new National Museum Building, today known as the Arts and Industries Building.

Samuel P. Langley's Aerodrome Shop in the South Shed in the South Yard of the Smithsonian Institution Building on 31 January 1900. Langley was the third Secretary of the Smithsonian and attempted to build the first manned flying machine. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute)

Opened on 4 March 1881 for Garfield’s inauguration, the building came to house exhibits on history and natural history when it was opened to the public in October of that year.  It remained the main exhibition space for the Smithsonian until 1911 when the new U.S. National Museum Building, now known as the Natural History Building, opened.  With the opening of the new space and the removal of the natural history across the Mall, it was renamed the Arts and Industries Building and became home to many of the Institution’s most visited displays.  These included the First Ladies Gowns (a collection started in 1912 by Mrs. Howard Taft), military artifacts, and a variety of new technologies – such as photography, telegraphy, the telephone, the automobile, and aeronautics (especially “The Spirit of St. Louis” which went on display in 1928).  Since 2004, the building has been undergoing restoration and is likely to be reopened in 2014.

Here is a list of the Smithsonian’s Museums and their locations:

  • African American History and Culture Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.) Opens in 2015
  • African Art Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Air and Space Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center (Chantilly, VA)
  • American History Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • American Indian Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Anacostia Community Museum (1901 Fort Place SE, Washington, D.C.)
  • Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (New York City)
  • Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, contains both the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C.)
  • Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • National Zoo (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Natural History Museum (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)
  • Postal Museum (2 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, D.C.)

(Links to articles on the Travel Guide will be updated as they are completed.)

For more on the history of the Smithsonian, it maintains a number of useful resources on the history of itself and its various subsidiaries.  The majority of them can be accessed from the official Smithsonian History website.

Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij, Brussels

Open Monday to Friday from 8.30 AM till 5 PM and Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM.  Closed on Sundays and public holidays.  Individual visits are available during opening hours for a 5 EUR charge and guided group tours are available by request (can be conducted in English, French, or Dutch).

Cantillon's Brew Kettle and Crushing Machine

Cantillon Brewery is a small, family-owned brewery but since 1978, it has run primarily as the Brussel’s Gueze Museum.  Having seen few changes since it opened in 1900, the brewery is working museum exhibit of late 19th-century brewery technology.  It is operated by the Van Roy-Cantillon family as a brewery for lambic, gueuze, faro, and kriek – all beers that are made with wild strains of yeast and undergo spontaneous fermentation.  When it was founded, it was just one of many gueuze breweries in Brussels, but today it is the last!

Walking into Cantillon for a tour is like stepping into a different time.  With the exception of the towers of beer being aged, nearly everything else in site is more than 100 years old and still performs a function in the brewery.  Going through the brewery either on a guided tour or with the self-guided brochure, takes one through the brewing process from grain to bottle.  First, in the mashing house is the mashing tun where 1300kg of wheat (35%) and malted barley (65%) are mixed with 10,000 liters of hot water (max temperature of 72C) for upwards of two hours.  The wort, as the mixture is now called, is strained and pumped into the brew kettle, also called the hop boilers, on the first floor.  The remaining solids, called draff, are sold as fodder.  The wort is pumped into two kettles, hops are added, and it is boiled for 3 to 4 hours.  At that point, it has reduced by a quarter and the sugar content of the liquid as risen.  It is then pumped through a hop container to filter out the hop solids and into open-air cooling tun.  This is the most important room at the brewery because while the liquid cools in this hand-riveted masterpiece of coppersmithing, it is inoculated with wild yeasts!  These strains are specific to the cooling tun room and the brewer protects this room as a sanctuary for them.  In 1985, when the original roof was replaced, it was not removed but covered with new tiles to prevent any disturbance from upsetting the special microorganisms that lived there.

Jill Parsons in the Barrel Store at the Cantillon Brewery. (Photo by Thad Parsons, III)

The next day, after the liquid has cooled completely, it is pumped into oak or chestnut barrels to ferment and age.
In three to four weeks, a slow fermentation starts and continues for three years.  Lambic is ready to be drunk as soon as a few weeks after fermentation starts but traditionally, brewers wait for at least one year for a better beer.  Walking into the Barrel Store is a truly unique moment, as lambic fumes fill the air and history surrounds you.  Throughout this area are the other various tools that the brewer uses to clean and maintain barrels – some of which are older than the brewery.

The Author enjoying Cantillon's wonderful gueuze. (Photo by Jill Parsons)

Finally, after you have made your way around the brewery, you return through the cellars and find the bar.  While the brewery does not support itself through the production of beers, it does produce a fine range of beverages:

  • Gueuze – blend of 1, 2, and 3-year olds, fermented in bottle.  Can be aged for a long time.
  • Kriek – Schaerbeek cheeries in two-year old lambic.
  • Rose de Gambrinus: Raspberries in two-year old lambic.
  • Fou’foune: Apricots in two-year old lambic.
  • Faro: Lambic with added caramel and candy sugar for a sweet beer.  (Note: Vigorous fermentation can cause bottles to explode.)
  • Plus, a range of other specialty products that may be available when you visit!

So, enjoy a couple of glasses in this unique historical setting!

Andrews Geyser, Old Fort, North Carolina

From Souvenir of Asheville or the Sky-Land, undated, D.H. Ramsey Library, UNC Asheville.

Andrews Geyser is a man-made fountain near Old Fort, NC.  The fountain is named for Colonel Alexander Boyd Andrews, a North Carolina native who was the Vice President of the Southern Railway Company and one of the men responsible for the construction of the railroad between Old Fort and Asheville, North Carolina, in the late 19th century.  Originally constructed in 1885 as a feature of the Round Knob Hotel and as a tribute to the men who died constructing this stretch of railroad, the fountain has had a checkered history.  In 1903, the hotel burned to the ground and the fountain fell into disrepair.  In 1911, the fountain was moved to its current position and restored.  It was at this time that Old Fort was given rights to the fountain, including the basin and pipe that supplies it.  Also, it was at this time that the fountain was officially named Andrews Geyser.  Again in the 1970s, the fountain underwent restoration and was rededicated on May 6, 1976. Today, the area around Andrews Geyser is a public park containing several large stone benches and a picnic area. It also has access to Mill Creek and a view of passing trains.

Andrews Geyser during the Summer of 2010. (Photo by Thad Parsons)

Andrews Geyser reaches heights of over 80 feet without mechanical aids.  Its water supply is a pond located nearly two miles away at the Inn on Mill Creek.  The Inn’s property contains the dam built in the late 19th century by the railroad and the Long Branch of Mill Creek feeds the pond.  A 6-inch-diameter (150 mm) cast iron pipe runs downhill to the basin, where it exits a half-inch nozzle.  The combination of a 500-foot change in elevation and the nozzle’s restriction powers the fountain.

During the winter, a cone of ice, with spray exiting its top, up to 50 feet tall can form and a permanent rainbow can generally be found on the fountain’s south side.

George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill, Alexandria, Virginia

Open daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from April 1 through October 31. Admission is just $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-11, and free for children 5 and under. When combined with Mount Vernon admission: $2 for adults, $1.50 for children ages 6-11, and free for children 5 and under. According to Mount Vernon’s website, the mill only operates on the first weekend of the month.

George Washington (1732-1799) played many roles in the foundation of the United States: soldier, hero, commander, President, and Patent Officer to name a few. Yet, most of his life was occupied by the demands of running a large plantation. Mount Vernon in George Washington’s days encompassed nearly 8,000 acres divided into 5 working farms. The Mount Vernon that exists today is the remnants of one of those farms, his Mansion House Farm.

In addition to the Mansion House, the original site of George Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery has survived. In 1754, when he inherited Mount Vernon from his half-brother’s widow, it included a small “toll mill” used to supply the plantation and it was used by other local farmers to process their crops. In 1770, Washington decided that he wanted to build a “merchant mill” that would process grains for use on the farm but, more importantly, for trade. This mill was powered by a large water wheel. To ensure the supply of water, Washington had a a large mill pond and several miles of millrace constructed. The mill opened in 1771 and, despite water shortages that restricted the months of operation, flour from Mount Vernon was being traded along the East Coast, throughout Europe, and within the West Indies.

The large water wheel that is the single source of power for the entire Evans System, as it is installed at Mount Vernon. (Photo by Thad Parsons)

In 1783, Oliver Evans constructed his Red Clay Creek mill, near the Delaware and Maryland border. A traditional mill typically used four floors to carry out its successive functions: grain was cleaned on the top floor, ground on the second, collected on the first, and hoisted back up to the third to cool and dry. This arrangement was labor and time intensive and Evans realized the benefits of mechanizing the entire process. In his Red Clay Creek mill, after it was delivered, human hands did not touch it until it was sorted and ready to be shipped.  Powered by a single water wheel, grain delivered at a window of the ground floor rose to the top floor, descended by gravity, and was moved through all the stages of drying, grinding, spreading, cooling (see next image), and sorting.  Nothing like it had been seen before anywhere. According to Eugene Ferguson, the combination embodied “the totally fresh concept of a continuous manufacturing process” and “demonstrated for the first time the fully integrated automatic factory” (Eugene S. Ferguson, Oliver Evans: Inventive Genius of the American Industrial Revolution. Greenville, DE: The Hagley Museum and The University of Delaware, 1980).

The automated cooling system on the top floor of the Gristmill. The flour is deposited by the grain elevator at the outside and is gradually moved toward the center by the sweeping arm. At the center is a hole that leads to the flour grading machine on the level below. (Photo by Thad Parsons)

During the late 1780s, Evans was granted a number of state patents for his various ideas and after the federal patent system was established, he applied for one. He was granted the third American patent (December 18, 1790) and it was signed by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. After signing the patent, both Washington and Jefferson became licensees of the Evans system. In 1791, the new system was installed at the Mount Vernon mill.

It is unknown for how long milling took place in the original mill.  The last record is from 1850 when the mill was razed because of its condition. The Gristmill and Miller’s House were reconstructed in 1933 by the Commonwealth of Virginia based on archaeological and documentary evidence.  The site was conveyed to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1997.  Today, Washington’s Gristmill is the only mill in the United States with an operating Oliver Evans system.

In 1797, George Washington started distillery whisky in the cooperage of his Gristmill.  In 1798, he had completed construction of his Distillery.  In 1799, with a production of nearly 11,000 gallons, it was the largest distillery in America.  Making mainly rye whisky, the Distillery provided George Washington with another source of income that supplemented what he received from the Gristmill.  The Distillery burned in 1814.

The foundations of the distillery building were discovered in 1933 but were recovered by archaeologists at that time.  In 1999, archaeologists began to investigate the site and worked for five years.  In 2007, the reconstructed Distillery opened.  Today, it is the only example of a working eighteenth-century distillery and has successfully produced whisky.