Fairbanks-Morse Does Double-Duty
In this 1987 photo Bill Clements operates the 'American No. 2' sawmill he restored and powers with the Fairbanks-Morse. (Photo courtesy of The Enterprise newspaper.)
8254 Riviera Dr., Severn, Maryland 21144-2429
In 1923 the Leonardtown Ice Company placed an order for a
single-cylinder 50 HP vertical oil engine with the Fairbanks-Morse
Company. Primarily, the engine was to serve as the compressor of
the refrigerant in the ice-making process. This occurred before the
arrival of the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) and
electricity to St. Mary's County in southern Maryland. The
company delivered the engine on February 12, 1924. Secondarily, the
engine drove the D.C. generator which supplied electricity to the
By 1927, the demands for electricity grew such that the town
needed a larger engine, so this old engine was replaced.
Fortunately, the story did not end there. Mr. H. Robb Cecil and his
father, Mr. John T. Cecil operated a mill in Great Mills, Maryland,
which itself needed more power to operate the machinery.
Originally, Cecil's Mill used an overshot steel water wheel to
operate the grist mill and a sawmill. Later, John Cecil installed a
stationary steam engine to supplement water power, which was
vulnerable to drought conditions. In 1927, H. Robb Cecil moved the
Fairbanks-Morse to the mill where it shared the power-generation
chores. With the engine came the first electricity to Great Mills.
The Cecil Mill generated electricity using water power, steam power
and, finally, diesel power.
The generator functioned while the mill operated and storage
batteries handled the lighting load when the mill was quiet. At
times, the mill operated 24 hours per day. John T. Cecil maintained
that the wheat ground better at night. Perhaps it had something to
do with the moisture in the air. The REA did not arrive until
Today, the mill-race stands dry, the ten-foot tall by
twelve-foot wide water wheel is silent and the stationary steam
engine seems to have left no trace. Steam and water-powered
grinding and sawing stopped when John T. Cecil died. His son, H.
Robb Cecil continued to operate the mill, using the Fairbanks-Morse
alone until his death in a sawmill accident in 1959.
A brass plaque embedded in stone at the mill site reads:
CECIL'S SAW MILL
A sawmill has been on this site since circa 1820. The present
structure has been restored using most of the 'American'
parts dating from 1910. The mill has not operated since the fatal
injury of H. Robb Cecil on 22 April 1959. Restoration was completed
in 1987 by William J. 'Bill' Clements.
In 1975, John A. and William Cecil donated Cecil's Mill to
the St. Mary's County Historical Society. The Mill appears on
the National Register of Historic Places.
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