The best field trips combine eating, sightseeing and returning home with a long list of things to research. If you had joined me for this past Saturday’s excursion to Clifton Mill, one of the largest water-powered grist mills still in existence, you would have witnessed how reinvigorating these jaunts are.
Clifton Mill runs by the natural power of water from the Little Miami River that is funneled into the gorge. According to the mill’s website, the first mill at the site was built in 1802, by a Revolutionary War soldier named Owen Davis. He and his son-in-law also built a saw mill and a distillery. The location was so good that five other mills were established within a mile of Clifton Mill, including a woolen mill, a saw mill, a paper mill, a barrel mill and another grist mill.
Within ten years, Davis sold the grist mill to Robert Patterson, whose son founded the National Cash Register Company of Dayton. During the War of 1812, the mill provided corn meal for federal troops from the area. Patterson also renamed the neighboring village from Davis Mills to Cliff Town, and its name was eventually shortened to Clifton. Since then, other families have owned the mill.
Today, Clifton Mill may be best known for its Christmas light display. For over 20 years, over three and a half million lights have illuminated the mill, the gorge, the riverbanks, trees and bridges during the holiday season. There’s even a 100-foot “waterfall” of lights, an outdoor miniature village with recreations of many of Clifton’s historic buildings, and a museum displaying over 3,000 examples of Santa Claus.
I’ll admit, I thought that the winter doldrums would have set in at Clifton Mill after the holidays, and we would have the place to ourselves. An almost-full parking lot and a busy interior corrected that impression right away.
In the gift shop, you can purchase pancake mixes and cornmeal ground at Clifton Mill. During the spring and summer, you can tour the mill to see how it works. You can also walk across its 90-foot covered bridge across the Little Miami River.
Year-round, you can eat in the Millrace Restaurant, which is open daily. It’s known for its pancakes, sausage gravy and cornmeal mush, locally raised buffalo meat and made-from-scratch soups and salad dressings. Every table was filled in each of the three dining rooms. College students were putting away huge plates of breakfast food. Baby boomers were digging into chili and cornbread made from Clifton Mill cornmeal. I ordered a reuben sandwich that came with the best homemade potato chips I’ve ever tasted.
The dining rooms are decorated with framed artwork featuring Clifton Mill and other nearby landmarks. As I looked around, I spotted two prints featuring the distinctive style of P. Buckley Moss. One pictured a couple of skaters behind Clifton Mill, which Moss created in 1995.
Another showed an Amish couple in front of Weaver Memorial Chapel at Wittenberg University, from 1996. Both were inscribed for Tony and Pat Satariano, the mill’s owners.
As I wondered what Mrs. Moss’s connection to Clifton Mill was, I remembered how I became an admirer of this artist’s work as a Sweet Briar girl, when my friend Shelbie and I visited the P. Buckley Moss Museum in Waynesboro, Virginia soon after it opened in 1989. The museum houses the permanent collection of her work and provides information about the artist’s life and her watercolors of country landscapes featuring Amish and Mennonite figures. During one of my subsequent visits to the museum, I bought the June Grigg Designs counted cross stitch graph for Mrs. Moss’s “Solitary Skater.” Ever since, the finished project has been on view at home every winter.
If you admire Mrs. Moss’s work like I do, you might like to track down The People’s Artist, her 1989 autobiography. P. Buckley Moss: The Lady Behind the Brush is a public-television documentary about her life and work. She also illustrated Reuben and the Blizzard, Reuben and the Quilt, Reuben and the Balloon and Reuben and the Fire, all children’s books about an Amish boy.
Now I’ve discovered that Frame Haven, a Springfield art gallery and custom framing establishment, commissioned Mrs. Moss to paint several Springfield landmarks, including St. Raphael’s Catholic Church, the Daniel Hertzler House, Springfield High School, Warder Library, and a farmer using his reaper (invented by William N. Whiteley of Springfield) in front of the Crabill Homestead in Moorefield Township. She makes occasional appearances at Frame Haven to meet collectors and to unveil new prints in her series of Springfield landmark watercolors.
Clifton Mill is located nine miles south of Springfield, so seeing Wittenberg’s Weaver Chapel on the way home was in order.
Dedicated in 1956, the chapel is easily identified on the Wittenberg campus by its 212-foot brick tower adorned with Indiana limestone carvings recalling spiritual and cultural figures, including St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Milton and Gottfried Leibnitz. The signs of the zodiac are depicted on an elaborate light fixture on the ceiling of the tower, as a tribute to those who worked to construct the chapel. Wooden plaques honoring past Wittenberg presidents are on the doors of the chapel’s north entrance.
But the windows are the chapel’s most striking feature. Oliver Smith of Bryan Athyn, Pennsylvania created them using a technique that reverses the usual method of stained-glass construction. In traditional windows, the picture is presented on glass, but in the chapel windows, the graphic portion is made of lead and glass is used only in the background. The windows on the west side of the nave depict the Old Testament, the east windows show the life of Christ, and the side panels portray the apostles.
Browsing through the literature racks in the vestibule of the chapel, I discovered the program for Epiphaniasgottesdienst, a German-language Epiphany service that was held in the chapel on January 6. With something like that on its calendar of events, the chapel is a place I’ll be visiting again.
Stopping in Springfield also introduced me to The Pennsylvania House, a museum we’ll be visiting when it reopens for the season in March. According to the brochure I picked up at the Westcott House, The Pennsylvania House was built in 1839 and was known as one of the finest inns along the National Road. Rescued and restored by the Lagonda Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, The Pennsylvania House was the boyhood home of Dr. Isaac Funk, the founder of reference publishing firm Funk & Wagnalls; his parents ran the inn during the 1840s. The Federal-style, 23-room, three-story building has four porches, 17 outside doors, and 19 rooms displaying 19th century artifacts, including a collection of over 100,000 buttons and a 12-room Federal dollhouse with hand-crafted miniature furniture in black walnut and cherry.