Old Water Turbine Starts Wheels Turning for New Solutions

Hanford Mills MuseumAs we seek out sustainable sources to power our 21st century technology, it sometimes helps to look back at the past. For a view of how earlier generations put energy to work in their time, you probably won't find a better setting than the Hanford Mills Museum in East Meredith.

"We have committed to looking at traditional sources of renewable and sustainable power," says Liz Callahan, the museum's executive director. The newest token of that commitment on the 70-acre historic complex is a project to restore a water turbine of the kind that once helped to drive economic life in the northern Catskills.

A $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation is helping to fund the third phase of the water turbine restoration, the installation of a large pipe called a penstock. This conveyance will carry water, drawn from nearby Kortright Creek, from a holding tank into the pit where the turbine resides.

As the flowing water drives the scroll-style turbine, that device will transmit the energy across a network of pullies, belts and shafts to power a millstone mill, a scroll saw and an edging machine. Once the water passes through the turbine, it will be channeled back into Kortright Creek.

The Hanford Mills Museum obtained the mid-19th century turbine from a former mill in Walton. The Hanford operation used one just like it, but that turbine was beyond repair, Callahan says.

While not as picturesque as the more-familiar water wheel, the water turbine was once an important source of energy. "Lots of individual agricultural production sites and small industrial operations had their own turbines if they had good, strong sources of water to generate power," Callahan says. "If you weren't trying to transfer power all over a mill complex, if you were trying to operate a few machines, a water turbine was the way to go."

The restored turbine will add one more piece to the picture at the Hanford Mills Museum showing how an industrial manufacturing site served a small agricultural community. Along with other power sources at the museum, including a water wheel and a steam power plant, it also will provide another example of low-impact power generation. "It helps people think about our resource use and power generation today," Callahan says. And maybe it will spark discussions about how to put those lessons from the past to good use in the future.

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