Alexandria, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Alexandria Heritage Trail
City of Alexandria Est. 1749
Phoenix Mill is the last surviving remnant of Alexandria's once thriving milling industry. William Hartshorne built the four-story mill in 1801. The mill was built at a time when Northern Virginia's economy shifted from tobacco to grain production, and flour and wheat were the principal export products of Alexandria's ports. The Phoenix Mill produced flour and feed, as well as ground lime for plaster. Water diverted from Holmes Run powered the mill's overshot water wheel. The 19-foot diameter wheel turned the mill's four pairs of millstones.
When David Watkins purchased the mill in 1854, he renamed it Dominion Mill. Watkins replaced the original water wheel with a 40½-foot wooden wheel (pictured above). He later added a second 40½-foot wheel made of metal that more than doubled the mill's power. The mill produced flour, rye, and mixed feed, as well as ground coffee. Watkins' mill appears as Dominion Grist Mill on the 1878 Hopkins atlas (see detailed map) and as Old Dominion Mills in an 1888 advertisement (see detail). The mill continued to operate as Dominion Mill for another 33 years after Watkins' heirs sold the mill
Water Power. Overshot water wheels such as those used at Phoenix Mill were one of the most common methods for powering mills. As the name suggests, overshot water wheels receive their water from an overhead sluice that empties directly onto the forward part of the wheel, filling the wheel's buckets and causing the wheel to turn by force of gravity as the water drops. Improvements in wheel design eventually led to an innovative cured-bucket design that was more efficient than traditional straight-sided buckets. When Dominion Mill needed to replace its aging wooden water wheel in 1909, the owners installed a curved-bucket Fitz I-X-L Overshoot Water Wheel designed by John Fitz.
Millstones. Phoenix Mill had four pairs of millstones. The stones would have weighed from one to two tons each. Grooves chiseled into the grinding surfaces cut and ground the grain. Only the upper millstone in a pair turned. The lower or bed stone was fixed in place. It was the miller's job to see that the millstones were set properly, with no more than a paper's width between the grinding surfaces, and that the grinding surfaces were kept sharp.
Erected 2008 by City of Alexandria.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Agriculture • Industry & Commerce • Waterways & Vessels. In addition, it is included in the Virginia, The City of Alexandria series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1801.
Location. 38° 48.442′ N, 77° 5.653′ W. Marker is in Alexandria, Virginia. Marker is on Wheeler Avenue west of Duke Street (Virginia Route 236), on the left when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 3650 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria VA 22304, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Lake Cook (approx. Ό mile away); Fort Williams (approx. 0.4 miles away); This is Cameron Run! (approx. 0.4 miles away); Fort Worth (approx. 0.6 miles away); Gerald R. Ford (approx. 0.7 miles away); Hensley Park (approx. 0.8 miles away); Fairview Caught in History's Crossfire (approx. 0.8 miles away); President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. Residence (approx. 0.9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Alexandria.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 29, 2021. It was originally submitted on May 18, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 211 times since then and 32 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on May 18, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.