Fractured Shaft Stops Colvin Run Mill

Fractured Shaft Stops Colvin Run Mill

Tours and interpretations of the Great Falls historic site continue.

Mike Henry, manager of Colvin Run Mill, points out the miller’s house on a tour of the grounds.

Mike Henry, manager of Colvin Run Mill, points out the miller’s house on a tour of the grounds. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

Grinding with the main stones at Colvin Run Mill Historic Site has come to a stop for the next few months. Miller Mason Maddox found a crack in the main axle of the site’s water wheel, which catches the water flowing through the millrace and powers the mill. Colvin Run Mill, located at 10017 Colvin Run Road in Great Falls, is a popular year-round destination owned and operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority.


Ben Hassett, one of the few remaining millwrights in the nation, has been conducting repair work at Colvin Run Mill in Great Falls.

The mill’s origin goes back to the 18th century when George Washington owned the land. It was circa 1811 Colvin Run Mill changed hands a couple times until 1883, when it was sold to a man named Addison Millard who moved his wife Emma and some of their 20 children to the mill to operate it. After Addison Millard died, the family stayed and operated the mill until 1934. Park Manager Mike Henry said the mill sat empty for more than three decades until the Fairfax County Park Authority acquired the property in 1966.

Although the mill’s main stones cannot grind grain until the shaft is replaced, tours and interpretation of the historic site will continue. The park hosted a Friends of Colvin Run Mill Day on Oct. 19, and visitors who signed up to join the supporting Friends group on that day received a free and rare Four Floor Tour of the mill. “We did grinding on our portable mill,” said Mike Henry.

THE 6,000 POUND AXLE that cracked was made from the trunk of a single white oak tree and was installed as part of an update to the mill in 2001 when the existing water wheel was built. The lifespan of such woodworks is typically 10 to 15 years, and park staff knew that it had begun showing its years. Replacement of the shaft will take at least several months, and staff is not yet certain when the entire mill will be running again. The current water wheel will be disengaged, and the wheel and its spokes will be inspected for wear and damage that will determine how much of the structure requires replacement and how long that replacement will take. “If you enjoy mechanical things, the work going into this project is amazing stuff,” said Mike Henry.

The restoration that is already under way inside the mill will continue. “I think we are approaching a fifty percent mark, which is what we expected about this time,” said Mike Henry. “We are on time and under budget.”

CURRENTLY the park is looking for volunteers for the weekday museum education program. “We are looking for people who love history and the company of kids,” said park manager Mike Henry. Five days a week, schools from all over Fairfax County have arranged visits to Colvin Run Mill. In upcoming months, the park will host a visit from Santa on Dec. 13, and have toy trains on display at the Colvin Run Mill barn from Dec. 20 and 21 and Dec. 27 to 28.

To learn more about Colvin Run Mill, visit or call 703-759-2771.