The 267-year-old Achey’s Mill in Upper Bucks
has been transformed into an incredible home.
Faithful reader Tracy Kramer recently invited my family to her house. Not just any house. Rather a large grist mill built before the American Revolution in the Upper Bucks village of Milford Square west of Quakertown. It’s a lavishly remodeled, three-story residence with walk-out basement to the scenic Unami Creek.
Visiting an ancient grist mill always has been the dream of my aunt Bennie in Oregon. When she heard the news, she asked me to “take lots of pictures.” Will do. With daughter Genevieve and granddaughter Margaux, almost 4, off we went by GPS to find Achey’s Mill below Quakertown. The imposing stone structure with 3-foot-thick walls is accessed by a gated bridge spanning the Unami off Hillcrest Road. We parked before a Paul Bunyan-size wood pile destined to heat the home this winter. Margaux leaped from the car and ran to the front door where vivacious Tracy greeted her. Inside, GoGo quickly bonded with the owner’s three Japanese Chins, giving each a new name, “Margaux, Margaux and Margaux.
Just off the entrance stairwell we entered the open architecture of a vast ground floor living room, solarium and kitchen equipped with the latest aids. The mill’s original grind stone serves as a coffee table supported by enormous beams in the basement. The living area gives way through sliding glass doors to a wrap-around veranda perched high above the rolling creek. The mill features several large, working fireplaces. Original aspects are preserved such as axe marks on structural support beams cut centuries ago, wooden pegs that tie beams together, and room divider doors made from heavy planks hung from roller bearings.
The mill dates to 1750 on property bordering Bucks County’s “Great Swamp”, a once forbidding Colonial wilderness. Tracy’s home, previously known as “Swamp Mill” and “The Widow Tyson’s Mill”, passed through many hands in its long life. In 1786, Ben Franklin pronounced it “of great repute.” As “Achey’s Mill” by the 1800s, it made news in the Quakertown Free Press that today reveals its pace of life: “Benjamin Achey is building a new wagon and wood shed…Benjamin Achey found an old coin bearing the date 1736, containing the insignia of King George III of England….Benjamin Achey lost a fine Alderney cow last week.”
The mill shut down in the 1900s and for a short period was owned by Joseph Millard known for scripting comic books in the ‘40s and ‘50s including one of the first graphics novels, “Mansion of Evil” published in 1950. After he sold the mill in 1951, it lapsed into ruin, battered by vandals and weather. In 1963, new owners completely restored the building to its original form while converting it into their home. Improvements included the solarium, three new baths, a modern heating system, decorative Mercer ceramic tiles and extensive landscaping. Unique was encasement of a small basement window that on flipping a light switch illuminates the mill race below the basement and the heavy wooden axle of the former waterwheel that powered grindstones.
Five years ago, Zoe and Nathan Koener bought the property and added more refinements. Longing to return to their native Ireland, the couple sold the mill last year to Tracy, husband Kerry and their son Tyler, 28, who operate a family auto repair business in nearby Sellersville. Tyler, who lives on the mill’s third floor, is keenly interested in a traditional lifestyle. He’s restoring an old pulley originally used to hoist mill products. He’s carved a bow out of a tree trunk, makes his own arrows, tans hides, and fishes with homemade lures. He also harvests plants and taps trees for essential oils. Said his mother, “We are going back to some older ways like making our own soap, laundry detergent, candles and heating with wood, cut and split by Tyler.”
The mill has become a family social hub. Last Halloween, the Kramers hosted an Adams Family party, everyone dressing in favorite characters. Enhancing the spirit of the evening was the skeleton of “Mr. Bones Jangles” seen from the basement window sitting on the edge of the mill race.
Genevieve, Margaux and I spent the afternoon visiting every cranny in the home, even hidden chambers accessed by trap doors where Tracy believes past owners hid barrels of illegal moonshine in the 1930s. A flood carried away some of those barrels that turned up far downstream near what today is Barrel Run Road. From the mill attic to the basement chambers and the creek bed trail outside, we experienced the mill in full. Its stories stirred the imagination. As Tracy put it with a broad smile, “I like to show the mill to people. I think of myself as a caretaker of history.”
Carl LaVO, a retired Courier Times editor, can be reached at [email protected]. His new coffee table book“Bucks County Adventures” can be ordered online at his website, www.buckscountyadventures.org
Carl will appear Tuesday (Aug. 22) at 7:30 p.m. in Langhorne to discuss his adventures. The event is hosted by the Langhorne Council of the Arts at the Historic Langhorne Association Museum and Library, 160 W. Maple Ave.