San José Mission - Water Powered Grist Mill
One of the most interesting things to me at the San José Mission in San Antonio is the Water Powered Gristmill. Built more than two centuries ago, the gristmill continues grinding away. Park ranger and head miller tells visitors, “We could grind 600 to 800 pounds of flour every day if we had to, just as they did years ago.”
When the European Priests first arrived in Texas to build the Missions the only type of bread they found was "Corn" bread. Corn can be milled by hand but to mill the harder wheat grain required some type of mechanical mill.
A logical addition to the extensive irrigation canal system from the San Antonio River, was a water powered mill. The mill at San José is not a technological wonder even when compared to water powered mills of that day. A gate directed water into a deep tub. Water from the tub was throttled with a smaller gate out through a small wooden pipe onto the horizontal vanes of a water wheel attached to a vertical shaft.
The Miller controlled the speed of the mill by how much water he throttled through the throttle gate. The more water he let through, the faster the mill would turn. The less water he let through the slower the mill turned
The vertical shaft went up through the mill floor, through the stationary millstone and was attached to the upper mill stone. The upper mill stone was turned by the shaft. The miller slowly fed grain into a hopper. The hopper is like a scoop. The hopper slowly drops the grain into a hole in the center of the upper stone. The grain is ground up between the stones and comes out one side into the flour bucket.
The flour was used to make bread for everyone who lived in the Mission. If there was extra flour it was traded with the other Missions in the area.
Gristmills played an important role in frontier Texas, as they did elsewhere. Early settlers required and developed ways to turn grain into flour to make bread, the most universal of foods. Farmers grew wheat and corn for sustenance as well as profit. Large plantations had their own mills. Small communities had at least one mill-ideally no more than a day’s ride from area farms. A farmer would sling a sack of corn or wheat across a horse or mule, ride to the mill, and bring home the same sack filled with meal or flour.
Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo opens daily 9-5 except for major holidays. The gristmill ordinarily operates every day, though at unscheduled times, so call ahead. A visitor’s center offers an exhibit on the mill’s history and a film about the mission. Admission: Free. Wheelchair accessible. Write to 2202 Roosevelt Ave., San Antonio 78210; 210/932-1001