The Barnitz Mill and Early Cumberland County History
Water-powered mills were the engine on which early industry turned in the Cumberland Valley. These large buildings housed heavy machinery used to convert wheat into flour, corn into meal, trees into lumber, wool into cloth and crushed limestone into plaster. What happened often around the mill complex was the development of buildings that eventually became a settlement named for the family that owned the mill. Such was the case with Barnitz Mill along Pine Road in Dickinson Township.
The millraces and grist mill building are part of a municipal park within the village. The Cumberland County Historical Society in 2015 published a history of mills along the Yellow Breeches and Conodoguinet Creeks. Barnitz Mill was one of about 117 buildings profiled in the book – of which only 16 survive to present-day.
The society had a nine-member committee of local historians, authors and researchers working to compile as much information as possible on each mill or cluster of mills, the lives of major mill owners and the social-economic effect of mills on Cumberland County.
The team traced the history of Barnitz Mill back to James Weakley, a major property owner in the county starting in 1749. Tax records from 1768 showed that Weakley owned a mill dam, a millrace, and a cloth making mill.
When Weakley died in 1772, his will transferred the cloth mill to his son Robert and the grist and saw mills to his son Edward. Records show the Weakley family held ownership of the mill property until about 1844 when it was sold to Jacob Barnitz. The Barnitz family then held ownership until about 1957 when the mill closed. The McCoy family owned the property for a time before it was sold in 1995 to the township for a municipal park. The grist mill went through a major stabilization and restoration project in 1999.
The 1870 Decennial Manufacturers Census stated Barnitz Mill had processed 300 bushels of rye and 5,000 bushels each of wheat, corn, and oats. The long line of Barnitz family mill owners and operators include William Bixler Barnitz who reportedly drowned at Cape Town Beach during a trip to South Africa. The mill complex produced and shipped cornmeal and whole grain cereals to the Army during World War II.
Though the book does not specify when the community around the mill complex became known as Barnitz, it described the village as having a Methodist church, a blacksmith shop, a store with a post office, a railroad station, a creamery and an ice house. The property had at one point a cloth mill, a sawmill, a grist mill and a copper mill used to make barrels. There was a grain elevator, a warehouse, a coal storage shed and a railroad siding.