Traveling down Cape Cod’s busy Route 28, you are sure to notice numerous hotels, restaurants, and gift shops. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive through the town of Yarmouth, because if you blink you may just miss a small slice of history hidden amongst the typical summer tourist trappings.
Situated on a narrow parcel between Route 28 and Mill Pond sits the historic Baxter Mill.
Built in 1710 by Thomas Baxter and Shubel Gorham, Baxter Mill is the only surviving 18th century water powered mill on Cape Cod.
A few years earlier, Baxter and Gorham had constructed another nearby mill that was used as a fueling mill, but the still existing mill known as the Baxter Mill, that sits on the banks of Mill Pond, was built to be used as a gristmill.
A gristmill is used for grinding grain into flour and middlings. The word “grist” is the part of the grain that has been separated from its chaff in preparation for grinding.
The Baxter Mill was owned and operated by the Baxter family for several generations, and then, eventually, it was sold to the Baker family.
The Baker family performed the first of many renovations to the gristmill. Originally, the Baxter Mill was powered by an externally mounted water wheel, which was typical for that time period, but was often subject to damage due to the extreme weather conditions of the harsh New England winters.
In 1860, the mill was renovated and modernized to 1860’s standards by replacing the external wheel with an internal turbine.
The Baker family continued to operate the mill until the turn of the 20th century, when electricity and commercial flour became readily available, thus making the gristmill obsolete.
After decades of non-use and neglect, the Baxter Mill went under its second major renovation in 1960 by Harold Castonguay and George Kelly. Castonguay and Kelly chronicled the repairs of the mill in a book called “Two Men on the Mill.”
After the massive renovations were complete, the Baxter Mill was donated to the Town of Yarmouth.
In 1981, the Baxter Mill was the first site in Yarmouth to be added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
Renovations of the Baxter Mill continued in 1989 under the guidance of the Yarmouth Department of Natural Resources who addressed problems with the dam and fish ladder.
The most recent renovation of the gristmill and dam was in 2019 when the Baxter Mill underwent a 1.5 million dollar project to reinforce the existing dam, improve the fish ladder for easier movement of Herring and Alewives in and out of the pond, and to restore the Baxter Mill back to a viable mill and tourist attraction.
Today, the Baxter Mill is still owned by the Town of Yarmouth, and is operated by the Yarmouth Historical Society, offering guests a parking and picnic area, views of the historic Baxter Mill and one of Cape Cod’s famous Herring Runs.
Cape Cod is known for the yearly occurrence of a natural migration phenomenon for two species of fish.
Every spring, Alewives and Blueback Herring swarm Cape Cod’s streams and rivers, from hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean, in search of their summer spawning areas. Surprisingly, individual fish will find their way back to breed in the same fresh water bodies in which they were born.
Peak spring Herring migration is from late April through June. Although Herring do not jump out of the water like Salmon do during migration, they are still very visible by swimming near the top of the water throughout the summer until their return to the Atlantic by late summer or early fall.
Besides the natural wonder of the spawning Herring, the Baxter Mill and Mill Pond are also a favorite nesting area for local swans, and you can often spot a swan family while visiting the Baxter Mill.
The next time you are enjoying all the fun that Cape Cod has to offer, be sure to make a quick pit stop along Route 28 in Yarmouth at the Baxter Mill.
Enjoy the historic charm and natural beauty of the Baxter Mill and surrounding Mill Pond. This notable landmark is so conveniently located, you will still have time to take in eight holes of mini golf, stock up on Cape Cod souvenirs, and get a bite to eat before heading back to your nearby hotel room!