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Rebuilding Deep Bight's iconic water wheel

Dwayne Dawe outside the mill in Beep Bight.
Dwayne Dawe outside the mill in Beep Bight.

It's said to be the last standing saw mill in Newfoundland. 

The original mill slowly faling into disarray.

The Deep Bight saw mill, with it's iconic 19-foot water wheel, was a landmark for the community.

Dwayne Dawe of Deep Bight says that he can remember, as a child, seeing cars lined up along the sides of the road to take photos of the mill.

That was then.

The mill, built in 1905 by William Avery and his brother James, stood until about 1984, when it final succumbed to years of neglect and decay, the ghost of a once booming industry.

Now, Dawe has begun the massive undertaking or restoring the old mill, with hopes that a new generation will discover the old mill.

But Dawe hopes that it will not just be tourists will come to see the old mill.

"I want our own people to come and say 'look at what our ancestors built'," explained Dawe, who says that the original design for the water wheel was so precise, and so detailed, and so intricate that it's a marvel that people were able to construct it without the use of modern technology.

Dawe is cutting and measuring these spacers using modern technology- the original masterbuilders would have had to cut and measure by hand.

He says that much of the challenge in restoring the mill was deciphering the antiquated blue prints from days-gone-by.

"I had the blueprints out of the book that Alexander Robinson [a local historian] wrote, and I had those blueprints for 10 years, and I couldn’t rebuild this mill because there was no one around who could show me how to do it," explained Dawe.

"The thing is, when the old master builders who built these mills, when the engines came on the scene back on the turn of the century, there was no need to pass this down, this technology that was passed on for maybe the past 1400 of 1500 years, from generation to generation to generation, how to build theses water wheels and these pit wheels, there was no need to pass this on because they didn’t need it… technology killed it.  Once they were phased out, there was no need to pass this knowledge down any more.

"When the old master builders died, they took it with them."

It wasn’t until Charlie Fry contact him some years ago that Dawe found his answers.

An authentic section from pit wheel rim given to Dawe. He thinks it's may be the only existing piece of original pit wheel rim from a Newfoundland mill.



Dawe says that Fry, who had seen a Packet article about Dawe's restoration project,  phoned Dawe up and told him that not only did he know how to build the pit wheel, a particularly tricky piece that was challenging Dawe, but that he had helped build them before.

"I was on his doorstep 6 o'clock the next morning," says Dawe. "I never closed my eyes that night."

Dawe says that from his investigations over the year, the specific design of the pit wheel seems to be unique to Newfoundland, and not a design borrowed from England or Ireland as he had originally thought.

He actually has a section of old, pitwheel rimming that was collected from another mill in the province and given to him, and says he has no idea of any other existing pieces of the Newfoundland pit wheel style.

Dawe, who has had to balance the project, which he is paying for out of pocket, with work and family schedules hopes to open the mill to the public next year, beginning tours possibly as early as May.

"What a heritage we got here in Newfoundland," said Dawe.

"When I think of how they out it together, with what they had… it's so precise… it blows me away, I don’t know where they got the knowledge."

Dawe has asked for feedback from anybody who might remember the old mills and how they operated, or how they were constructed, and says that he can be reached at 425-3356, or at averymill@hotmail.com.

Dawe hopes to have the cribbing complete by November of this year.

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