Tide mills make use of the action of the tides to provide water for power. A dam is built is built across a narrow inlet with gates to allow the rising tide waters to flow in. When the tide is at its full height, the gates closed automatically as the tide reverses direction. When the water outside the gate has fallen sufficiently to allow the mill wheel to rotate, milling work may begin. The miller has an odd work day, because the mill operates only for a few hours after each tide. There are two work periods in each 24-hour day, and the work periods change a few minutes each day since the tide is not on an exact 12-hour cycle.
No. 16309 The circle with lines running through it that is located in the creek is the symbol for the mill in this detail from the 1850 Whiting map of Dorchester. For orientation, the gas tank next to the Southeast Expressway is located on the peninsula to the right.
A 17th century tide mill was located on the part of Mill Street that is now called Victory Road. The armory on Victory Road sits on the former Tenean Creek, now filled in, and the tide mill was located to the west side of the armory on the former bank of the creek.
The tide-mill at Tenean was built by Edward Breck who probably came to Dorchester in the second migration in 1635, and he purchased land of Mr. Burr land in 1642. Breck lived on Adams Street. Clap cites town records for December 17, 1645, saying, “There was given to Edward Breck, by the hands of most of the inhabitants of the town, Smelt Brook Creek, on the condition that he doth set a mill there.” He built the mill, and the street on which it stood was later called Mill Street. William Robinson acquired the mill, probably from his widow and son, after he died in 1662, and Robinson sold it to Tileston in 1664 for 96 pounds. The description at that time was: a “little house” and ten acres of land on “Tide-Mill Creeke, and half a corn water-mill standing on the tide in the creeke, commonly called Salt Creeke or Brooke, near Captaines Neck.” In 1668 Robinson, the second owner, died when he was “drawn through by ye cogwheel of his mill, and was torn in pieces and slain.” Since he died after the sale of the mill, he may have been working at the mill after he sold it, or he may have still owned a half-interest in the mill. The compiler of the Breck genealogy in 1889 said that the mill continued to belong at that time to the Tileston family.
John Goff has offered this analysis: We can conclude that Tileston’s Dorchester tide-mill was powered by a large vertical waterwheel, running on a horizontal axis. Only then would it have required the cog wheels that cut up the unfortunate Mr. Robinson. If Tileston’s, like the Souther Mill in Quincy, in its final days, was powered directly by a vertical shaft running up from a horizontal tub-wheel mechanism, there would have been no cog gearing at all. The gearing was typically required to change direction of power shaft and change speeds—all of which suggests Tileston’s had a picturesque vertical waterwheel.
The following is from Memoirs of a Many-Sided Man: The Personal Record of a Civil War Veteran, Montana Territorial Editor, Attorney, Jurist. Memoirs of Henry N. Blake written in 1916. Edited by Vivian A. Paladin and published in Montana, the Magazine of Western History, Autumn, 1964.
I was born in a one-story building of wood on the southwestern side of Mill Street in Dorchester, (now Boston), Massachusetts, on the fifth day of June, 1838. On the opposite side of the street was a grist mill of the old style, owned by Ebenezer Tileston and my father. A story was added to the building, which is standing in good repair, but the mill and creek flowing into it have been filled recently with rubbish by the city of Boston. This was an ancient privilege, granted by the Massachusetts Colony in 1645; the grantee and his successors were authorized to construct and maintain a dam across an arm of the sea from Massachusetts Bay. The power was furnished by the incoming tide which flowed into the pond and closed the gate when it receded.
My father was the miller and worked in the night or daytime according to the ebb and flow of the tide. The payment for grinding corn and grain was fixed by law and the miller had the right to take for his services a certain portion of each grist call “tolls,” but the parties agreed sometimes upon a sum of money. When I was young I enjoyed many hours playing about the mill, caught fish and learned to swim in the pond and dug clams at low tide in the creek.