The Old Swimming Hole

When I was a child I had a friend who lived across town. His house was near a small stream called Saw Mill Creek. For us boys it was a fascinating point of interest. We would spend long summer days there throwing rocks, catching frogs, fishing, splashing, swimming and building rafts. If this sounds idyllic as a Tom Sawyer life, you are right, this was our Mississippi River. In the winter the creek would freeze over solid and we would skate a great length of it.

Saw Mill Creek, Salisbury, Massachusetts, tidal mill

Further downstream where the freshwater met the incoming saltwater the stream went tidal. It would rise and fall a few feet twice a day. We always knew there was an ancient saw mill (thus the name Saw Mill Creek) at this site. It was sort of a legend to us kids. It was powered by the rise and fall of the tides. The tidal difference was great enough to be able to take an exciting jump from the rocks into the river below. I can remember seeing evidence of the old mill with support notches carved into the cliff and a few odd pilings in the middle of the stream.

Saw Mill Creek, Salisbury, Massachusetts, tidal mill

The sepia photos show the site of the old saw mill, the place of our exciting jumps into the water. I believe that the saw mill was long gone by the time these photos were shot as there is no evidence of a dam in either. It's interesting to see a shack suspended over the stream and someone standing on the porch. Looking carefully you can see a person wearing a straw hat, sitting below the shack on the rocks. Perhaps this shack was part of the old mill turned into a residence.

Saw Mill Creek, Salisbury, Massachusetts, tidal mill


A tide mill is quite simply a water mill that derives its power from the rise and fall of the tides. It is almost never referred to as a "seawater" or "saltwater" mill because the chemical composition of the water driving the mill wheel is not important. What counts is that the water impounded behind a mill dam can only be put to work after the water level outside of the dam has sufficiently dropped during the ebb tide.

Saw Mill Creek, Salisbury, Massachusetts, tidal mill

Salisbury town records chronicle a tide mill built by a William Osgood: “On the 21st day of the 2nd month in 1641" (21 Apr 1641 the new year began on 25 Mar.) "Willi Osgood was granted 50 acres of upland and 10 acres medow to build a saw mill by 10th day 7th month. 50 acres lying between ye little river and ye commonwas.”
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