Kenderdine Mill Complex

Horsham Twp, Montgomery County, PA

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The Kenderdine Mill Complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992


The Kenderdine Mill historic complex is centered on the intersection of Keith Valley and Davis Grove Roads in the northwest corner of Horsham Township. Buildings of the immediate complex include the original fieldstone mill building (expanded in the nineteenth century by a third story) with its attendant raceways, a handsome fieldstone mill owner's house dating from the early nineteenth century at the point of transfer to John Shay, and a stable and carriage house constructed in the middle of the nineteenth century by the same family. Across Keith Valley Road is an earlier, fieldstone house constructed in two phases which began as the original house of the Richard Kenderdine family, the builders of the mill. It later became the home of Richard's son Joseph, a millwright, the probable builder of the mill. These constitute the principal buildings of the Kenderdine Mill historic complex.

The mill complex was positioned in a shallow valley where two small waterways could supply a millpond and dam and millrace. In the last ten years, portions of the millrace and tailrace that came off an unnamed tributary to Park Creek and from Park Creek have been excavated in the vicinity of the mill. The depression of their course is clearly evident along the remainder of their route though it has not been excavated. These two water sources assured a sufficient head to operate the mill. The site was reached by the Horsham Road to the north between Horsham and William Keith's mansion, Graeme Park, which was opened in 1736. It was linked to the mill by a path which later became the Keith Valley Road. A generation later, the Davis Grove Road was opened on the south providing a more direct link to the site.

The central building of the group is the 34' by 47' gable roofed, rubble stone mill. Its rubble fieldstone walls show evidence on the gable ends of the original steeper pitch of the roof, following the fashion of late medieval designs. Slight changes in the masonry on the gable ends and the unusual barn siding of the second story indicate the construction of the second story in the nineteenth century, during the period of operation by the Shay family. At that time the original pitch of the roof was altered, taking the broader proportions of the Federal period. These alterations probably occurred in response to changes in mill technology and kept the building up-to-date—in function if not in appearance. Though the building was enlarged by the added story, the lower walls show no evidence of enlargement, indicating that this was a particularly ambitious building in the manner of the Wentz Mill rather than a tiny structure in the fashion of such earlier enterprises as the Rittenhouse paper mill or the Caleb Pusey Mill in Chester County. The mill remained operational by its original water power until the first years of the twentieth century and according to the history of the Kenderdine family, was among the last such structures in eastern Pennsylvania.

The mill was powered by a breast-shot millrace that turned an interior water wheel, estimated as 9' high by as much as 9' wide, at the north end of the building. Such a system, while not so picturesque as those of later mills with the exposed wheel, protected the expensive carpentry and joinery of the wheel and was typical of eighteenth and early nineteenth century construction. Massive oak hand-hewn, mortised and tendoned framing timbers and pit-sawn girders and joists carry the interior floors and support the various pieces of milling machinery. These include wooden cranes in the lower level to enable the miller to remove and resurface the grinding stone, and a sack and cask hoist which according to mill historian Steven Kindig "is the only complete, original one in wood remaining." The machinery, some of which was probably remade in the nineteenth century, survives with a remarkable degree of integrity, lacking only the water wheel and the belts to be operational. Minor changes in openings and mill machinery continued through the nineteenth century, as is evidenced by the 1840s date inscribed on the fragile but surviving silk bolting (sifting) machine.

The operations of the mill are immediately apparent from its openings and its machinery. The south gable is punctuated by centered openings beneath a projecting roofed overhang that sheltered the hoisting mechanism which raised raw materials to the upper level of the mill. At the fourth (top) level, a slack belt sack hoist raised the unmilled grain for storage. There a scouring machine cleaned the grain of superfluous material. From that level, the grain was chuted down to the third level where it was stored until it was milled. At this level survives the original wooden power transmission equipment for driving the elevator to move the grain. Chutes conducted the grain to the second or "Stone Floor" where it was ground by the millstones. Two of the original three stones remain in place as do two stone cranes which lifted the stones when they needed to be redressed or sharpened. On this level is a "bolting" or flour sifting machine dating from the 1840s and an apparatus for bagging and conveying the finished product to wagons at ground level. The first level was largely occupied with the nine foot wide water wheel and the massive frame that transmitted the wheel's force down to the various hoists and milling machinery.

Predating the mill is the other ancient building of the site, the stuccoed, fieldstone Richard/Joseph Kenderdine house which stands to the east across what is now Keith Valley Road. Its easternmost portion shows the steep roof pitch of pre-Georgian design. Its massive corner fireplace and winder stair are typical of early eighteenth century plans as well. Although the stair has been replaced on the first floor, it survives on the second floor into the attic. In the basement, the timbers of that early portion of the house are hewn and pit sawn, corroborating the antiquity of the forms and the plan. The house was enlarged with a two room deep "two thirds Georgian" Federal wing in the early nineteenth century, probably at the time that the mill was sold to Shay. Federal mantels, door and window surrounds, and chair rails establish the period of the addition while the old, single room house became the hall and kitchen.

With the old mill owner's house remaining in the original Kenderdine family, the new mill-owner, John Shay, was forced to build a new house. This he located on the inner corner of the property at Keith Valley and Davis Grove Road. Its proportions and details are similar to those of the addition to the Kenderdine house, suggesting that it was by the same builder and of the same general period. It is also of fieldstone construction, with its long face paralleling Davis Grove Road and its gable end facing Keith Valley Road. Though altered over time, and transformed in recent years into a modern gentleman's country residence, its major elements remain intact.

The last building of the complex marks the continuing evolution of the site. In 1858, Shay's son John, Jr. erected a fourth building between his house and the mill, which served as a stable and carriage house. Its two stories were of the same warm red-tan stone, laid up in quarried blocks and containing a datestone with the Shay initials in the gable. Together the four buildings form an intact, early industrial complex of a sort that once was common in Montgomery County but are now rare.


The Kenderdine Mill complex is a remarkably well preserved, industrial complex surviving on its original site and dating from the first years of the settlement of Pennsylvania. Its evolution over more than a century denoted the continuing agricultural heritage of southeastern Pennsylvania. Its construction stimulated the opening of many of the roads of the region including the Horsham Road, Keith Valley Road, and Davis Grove Road which made it possible for local farmers to reach the mill. The builders, the Kenderdine family, were important in the history of their community of Horsham, helping to establish the local Quaker Meeting and its school.[1] Finally, the complex of buildings display the characteristics of the evolving architectural character of the region from the primitive Colonial buildings of the early eighteenth century towards the sophisticated Federal designs of the early nineteenth century.

There is no doubt that numerous mills operated along the banks of the streams that dotted what was originally upper Philadelphia, later Montgomery County. Few if any, however, predated the Kenderdine Mill. Richard Kenderdine had acquired 250 acres in 1713 from Samuel Carpenter, who had purchased 4300 acres from Penn.[2] His son, Joseph, a millwright, and thus the presumed builder of his own mill, acquired the property after the death of his father, and shortly thereafter transferred the ownership to a joint indenture with his brother Thomas. Presumably it was Joseph, who constructed the mill on the property during 1734 and 1735.[3] The Kenderdine family built another mill nearby on Park Creek. It has survived though much modified as a residence. Other mills in the township included the grist and saw mills of the William Lukens family on the Pennypack Creek accessed by Saw Mill Lane and erected around 1740. Another mill built shortly before the revolution was operated in the same vicinity by John Lukens.[4] These no longer exist making the Kenderdine Mill the last to survive in such complete condition in the township. Although numerous other mills exist within Montgomery County, such as the late nineteenth century Comley's Mill near Pennsburg, and Schults Mill (Douglass Township) most of the later mills were of brick and those of similar size are later in construction. With few exceptions such as the sunrise Mill (Lower Frederick) now owned by the county, most such buildings have been converted into housing or other uses. The high degree of integrity, and the early age of the Kenderdine Mill and its early wood machinery (like that of the Sunrise Mill) makes it special.

Of the buildings in the complex, most do not have date plaques but portions of the mill and the first portion of the Joseph Kenderdine/Keller house can with certainty be given a date of 1735 because they were not listed on the 1734 tax rolls, nor were they listed as an asset in the will of Richard Kenderdine who died in 1734. However, the following year, in 1735, Richard's son Joseph petitioned the Court of Quarter Sessions for a road to provide access to the mill which "...Thomas and Joseph Kenderdine has [sic] borne at great expense at building," suggesting that it was constructed immediately after Richard Kenderdine's death in that same year.[5]

The mill is the most important feature of the complex; its lower walls are from the original eighteenth century construction. It is particularly remarkable because its perimeter walls are of a size more consistent with nineteenth century construction. It was this size however which made it efficient to add the upper stories to it rather than demolish and start again. When originally constructed, the lower level contained an internal water wheel (the only major missing piece of the milling machinery), which used wood spindles and gears to turn the millstones on the first floor. That equipment remains in good condition and was later augmented in the nineteenth century when milling was more mechanized, to provide power to lift raw materials to the upper stories, and then to move them through the various stages of production to their finished state as flour. As the above description suggests the mill is a rare survivor from the age of wooden machinery, was adapted as technology changed but is largely intact with only modest additions of iron machinery offering one of the few opportunities to see and even operate such a site in eastern Pennsylvania. Among its rarest artifacts—in addition to the wooden machinery is a "rare flour bolting (sifting) machine.[6] This wood plank box contained a silk mesh covered cylinder that helped separate finely ground flour from bran and chaff. With little more than the reinstallation of a water wheel and belting and modest repairs, the mill could again be put into operation.

The other structures that surround the mill provide additional evidence about the character of a mill complex. These include the original house of Joseph Kenderdine which has since been separated from the immediate property by Keith Valley Road. That house began as an early settlement type of a one room house plan but was later enlarged into a considerable residence, with an added "two-thirds Georgian wing.[7] This apparently occurred at the time that the family sold the mill and its surrounding property to John Shay in 1810.

At the time of their purchase the Shay family must have constructed a new house across Keith Valley Road. The Shay family operated the mill during most of the nineteenth century.[8] A datestone in the gable peak indicates that in 1858, the Shay family added the stone two-story stable that housed the various animals and wagons of the full-fledged water operated mill. The stonework, makes it likely that this building began as a part of the old cooper shop which is listed on the site in the 1776 will of Thomas Kenderdine in 1779.

Until the steam engine and the railroad altered the industrial landscape in the mid-nineteenth century, mills such as the Kenderdine-Shay group represented a site of considerable importance. This importance caused the mill to become the focus of several important roads which were constructed to make the mill accessible. The Horsham Road was opened into the general vicinity of the mill in 1736 as the result of a petition in December of the previous year by the nearby farmers and the Kenderdine family. Eight years later, in 1744, the mill was a sufficiently important destination to cause the opening Davis Grove Road which reached the mill more directly. Its relationship to the mill is evidenced by its original name of "Mill Road."[9] Eventually the Keith Valley Road was brought in from the north, presumably after the Shays had purchased the mill.[10] As the processing plant for local agriculture, the Kenderdine/Shay mill complex describe the evolving patterns of settlement of the region.

Finally, the Kenderdine Mill complex offers a superb example of the local fieldstone architecture that evolved out of English traditions and local realities of material and available technology. Both the mill and the early house show the character of the early eighteenth century, only a decade after the completion of nearby Graeme Park. The later Federal additions of the Joseph Kenderdine house and the Shay house are graced by mantels and trim which show the influence of Benjamin Latrobe's work in Philadelphia and mark the evolution of local building from craft to design.


  1. George E. Thomas and Emily T.C. Jernigan, "Horsham Meeting Register Nomination" (Philadelphia, Clio Group, Inc., 1990).
  2. Charles Harper Smith, The Settlement of Horsham Township (1937, published 1975), 6-7.
  3. Smith, 102-104, 112-113.
  4. In addition, the mill history of Montgomery County and Horsham Town- ship are discussed in Theodore Bean, History of Montgomery County Vol. II (Philadelphia, 1884), 880.
  5. Stephen J. Kindig, "The Kenderdine Mill, " prepared for Mrs. Charles Harper Smith, 1985, p. 7. (Ronald Mintz files).
  6. Henry Glassie, "Eighteenth-Century Cultural Process in Delaware Valley Folk Building," Winterthur Portfolio 7, (1972), 42.
  7. The early Kenderdine House deeds have been gathered in Smith, 54-58. See also T. S. Kenderdine, The Kenderdines America (Doylestown, 1901). This summarizes wills and deeds for the families; see especially pp. 191-207.
  8. The early Mill Road name is discussed in Kenderdine, 206.
  9. The highway history of the Horsham Township is summarized in Smith, 8-12 and Bean, Vol. I, 453-7.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Davis Grove Road • Keith Valley Road

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