The old wooden stairs creak under the feet of visitors inside the 179-year-old mill as they walk up to the second floor at the Bonneyville Mill outside Bristol.
There they are greeted by John Jenney, the miller for the Elkhart County Park's historical mill.
Upon request, Jenney will turn a large metal wheel which opens up a gate and re-directs water into the horizontal water wheel and the original stones start grinding up grain into flour or cornmeal as visitors look on.
Jenney has been the miller for 31 years, but in reality, he is more than just that.
“You have that job title here but it involves a lot of other things,” Jenney, 64, said.
Considered an “historical interpreter,” Jenney runs the mill as it would have run 100 years ago, but also conducts the maintenance and leads educational programs.
“Interpretation is all about telling the story of something. Of course that’s what we try to do here with the mill,” he said.
Jenney said that since traditional milling has all but gone away, he learned through on-the-job training and his own research.
“Nowadays when you look at milling, if you want to get into the big corporations you have to basically have a college education,” he said of the automated mass-production process.
The mill is also a part of the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills, a network of mills across the country, some privately run by volunteers, others by county or state-owned groups such as Bonneyville.
According to Jenney, the mill grinds out between 8,000 to 12,000 pounds of product a year including two types of flour, yellow and white corn, rye and buckwheat.
Jenney said that during the mill’s season, which runs May to October, he and his co-workers keep the mill ready to go at all times so that when visitors arrive they can start grinding within seconds.
“It’s done as a historic demonstration and as a result of that we feel we make a very good product and we have a really good customer base,” he said.
Because they sell the products made by the mill, it must pass a state health inspection, Jenney said, which includes testing of the product to ensure that it’s good enough for consumption.
After three decades of running the show, Jenney side-stepped questions about if he would step down
“I don’t want to give that secret away,” he said.
Jenney did say that he is training another county parks employee to eventually take his spot.
“It has been fun, I guess that’s the best way I can describe it,” he said.
Jenney said he’s really enjoyed leading the many field trips and school groups that come through, as well as meeting tourists from around the country and sometimes, the world.
“Trying to teach the kids about a place that had a role in the local community in the county and what that role was and how it affected the people that lived around here,” he said.
“And showing them a part of history that actually works and the fact that we can take the power from the water to do work.”
The mill runs Wednesday to Sunday from May to October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Bonneyville Mill Park, located at 53373 C.R. 131 in Bristol.