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Musings of Moreland’s first grist mill

By Staff | Apr 23, 2013

A family with a proud history, Smith/Wallis descendants include (seated l-r): Loretta Wallis Raup, LaMonte Wallis, (standing) Alexis Robbins, Sayre Bradley, Tanner Bradley, Joyce Wallis Peterman and Rob Wallis. (Back): Dean Robbins, Sandra Robbins Bradley, Sharon Robbins Culver, Brenda Peterman and Michael Wallis.

“Imagine the challenge in 1794 of setting forty foot hand-hewn beams horizontally across those of the same size set vertically,” said Rob Wallis of Hughesville. The descendant of the Smith/Wallis family spoke of the first grist mill in Moreland Township completed by his ancestor in 1796.

The speaker’s remarks to attendees at the April meeting of the East Lycoming Historical Society were supported by slides from the society’s archives taken by the late Rufus Fetter.

The mill’s builder was Col. George Smith, who after his Revolutionary War service in Huntington County, New Jersey, relocated here to about 400 acres of land. The old patriot who fathered six children was interred in the Moreland Lutheran Cemetery.

The area around the mill had been known as Smithtown and was the township’s bustling business center and post office until 1900 when mail was transferred to Opp, a later established village.

According to the speaker, surnames of mill owners were Welliver, Crawford and Henry Johnson. In 1898, Samuel Pierson Wallis (a descendant of a half brother to the famed local land surveyor) purchased the mill site containing six acres and another 114 of the original parcel.

Michael Wallis of Montgomery, with mechanical grinder complete with seat and pedals.

Wallis noted over the decades changes to the milling process including the switch from water power to diesel power necessitating an addition to the building. Equipment by the local Sprout-Waldron Company was installed and office space was added.

The speaker provided a family tree chart which aided in understanding the progression of the story. The Smith and Wallis families were united when in 1891, Ralph Wallis, son of the above Samuel Pierson and Margaret Teresa Kahler Wallis, wedded Stella Smith, daughter of Peter and Mary Ellen Neufer Smith.

Purchased by Ralph Wallis in 1933, the farming and milling business eventually became the Ralph Wallis Company equally shared by the couple’s children Blanche, Mary, Joseph Larue “Bully” and Fred “Brownie” Wallis.

Some of several invoices noting client transactions displayed at the meeting were from 1911-14, and included Edward Renn, Opp; Alvin Houseknecht and Walter Buck, Clarkstown; J. H. Fague and Milton Worthington, Hughesville; Elmer Derr, N. H. Lowe, and William Hummel of Muncy.

There were also ledgers, a complimentary note book advertising the Royster Fertilizer Company, and printed fabric feed bags which when emptied could be made into curtains, clothing, etc.

Michael Wallis of Montgomery displayed an early style Dimo-Grit Grinder, a portable foot powered, compact, well built machine with a steel chain.

Looking forward to September 14, 2013, and the township’s bicentennial celebration, the mill will be one of several stops on a self-guided tour. There will be no admittance however; a great photo-op will be the loading and unloading of grain from a horse-hitched cargo farm wagon at the mill’s dock.