The Historic Hope Saw Mill


This awesome old saw mill is now an Educational and Heritage Center located on the Indian River at 3414 Hope Mill Road, Lang Ontario. Not to be confused with the Lang Grist Mill at the Lang Pioneer Village nearby, it is strictly a working saw mill, a wood working museum and has archival records from the early wool and carding era. The center is open on Tuesdays from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm for guided tours. Admission is free but a donation to help defray operation expenses is greatly appreciated by the volunteer staff. If you arrive at the mill early, be prepared when the crew starts the day by pulling a lever and the water flows from the mill pond over the stop logs through the penstock and into the mighty turbines, the noise and vibrations throughout the mill will, as the Bushwhacker commented, “sounds and feels like a jet airplane preparing for takeoff!” Such is the amazing power of water!

In 1835 William and Jane (Stewart) Lang built an ‘under-shot’ water wheel powered carding and fulling mill for processing sheep wool and for a short time a grist and shingle mill on the Indian River a mile north of the village of Lang. The families living quarters were originally in the un-insulated second floor of the mill where they surely would have frozen to death accept for a small wood stove for heat. In 1873 the saw mill in the village of Lang was destroyed by fire. William Lang and his son-in-law Richard Hope quickly foresaw the need for a sawmill replacement and added a saw mill to their carding mill. By the 1890’s the wool and carding business was discontinued and the Hope’s went into full time lumber milling. In 1892 an addition was added to the building to accommodate a large circular saw for cutting logs and two water-driven turbines were added to power the equipment of the mill. The main building now contained a wood lathe, a sticker (a four-sided planer that produced tongue-and-groove joints), a power rip saw, a bandsaw, a planer and equipment to sharpen saw blades and a forge.


Fourth generation, Jack Hope operated the mill until 1966 when he sold the property to the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority (ORCA). With many hours of volunteer help and some government funding the old mill was converted to a demonstration sawmill used for educational purposes. The second floor living quarters of the miller’s family was converted to a museum for displaying antique woodworking tools. The conservation authority used the mill to build needed picnic tables and other items for their conservation areas and camping sites. It is interesting to note that in the 1960’s the Peterborough Canoe Company used Hope Mill lumber to build canoes, skis and toboggans. Alas, in 1993 with government funding severely cut, ORCA could no longer afford to operate and make repairs, the site had to be closed. Vandals and raccoons were now a major problem. The antique tools were wisely moved to the Peterborough Centennial Museum & Archives for safekeeping.

In 1999, The Otonabee Conservation Foundation (OCF) established a program to restore the mill to a structurally sound Educational and Heritage Center. Because vandals had burned a section of the roof, insurance covered part of the restoration costs. The dedicated OCF restoration team raised funds to repair the remainder of the roof. Now the hard work began. The tailrace water from the turbines flowed under the wooden floor on the way back to the river caused major rotting of floor support beams causing a floor collapse in the machine shop. After parts of the floor were removed, a concrete pier the length of the building was poured to contain the water and provided new supports for the floor decking. New stop logs were put in place and the penstock was drained. Both turbines, gearing, bearings and shafting had to be removed for rebuilding. A local company (CGE, Peterborough) agreed to complete the repairs as well as repair a large broken gear casting.


Ceilings & walls of the second-floor museum rooms all had to be removed to clean up raccoon droppings and to repair damaged studs and ceiling joists and all areas were professionally disinfected. The former lath and plaster walls were replaced with drywall, stucco and painted. The ceilings were replaced by shellacked knotty pine.

The 48” circular saw and carriage on the mezzanine level is about 8’ above grade. The saw room floor was supported on concrete footings with timber columns. The grade was muddy and with years of rotting saw dust it was wet and smelly from slow water leakage from the dam. The old footings were replaced and new columns erected. With the grade muck removed down to bedrock, the continual seepage water from the dam had to be removed somehow. This was accomplished by a layer of crushed stone covered by a 4” concrete floor. At the downstream side of the building a French drain was dug to carry the seepage water back to the river. In 2004, the rebuilt turbines were back in place and with new wooden gear teeth to provide power to the saw, the mill was almost ready to operate once again. The mill opened to the public in June 2006. Hope Mill Restoration information thanks to: a      Lee Valley Tools-Woodworking Newsletter, written by Robert Rehder and Alex McCubbin.

Today, the rustic old mill is operated to demonstrate pioneer lumbering techniques to the public. Logs are delivered to the millpond and rolled into the water. The saw team guides the logs from the millpond with a long pike-pole to the jack-ladder where the logs are chained and winched by water power into the mill. The log is then rolled onto the saw carriage with the aid of a cant hook and secured with ‘dogs’.   The mill can cut logs up to twenty-five feet long and twenty-four inches in diameter. The saw blade is 48 inches in diameter with 48 replaceable, insert teeth. As our tour guide explained, the saw blade is purposely deformed (by a Sawfiler, a metal worker who set and sharpened the saw teeth) with a hammer on an anvil to counteract the forces of heat and cutting to keep the blade true. Some of the turbine bearings and gears are not made of metal as one might think. They are created from a hard, dense, water & salt resistant wood from the Lignum Vitae tree. This special hard wood contains natural oils that make bearings and gears self-lubricating.   The Lignum Vitae tree is the National tree of the Bahamas.


When the water power is engaged, the blade rotates at 500 rpm’s and the carriage is drawn along the rails by a rack and pinion gear bringing the log into contact with the saw blade. Nothing from the mill is wasted, the waste wood is cut into firewood lengths and the large amount of sawdust generated is used locally for livestock bedding.

Today, the mill cuts mostly pine and cedar and occasionally maple and basswood. Custom sawing is available to meet customer specifications. When the Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre in Cobourg needed local white ash to be sawn for their restoration of a Trent River Mining Ore Car (from the Cobourg, Peterborough & Marmora Railway & Mining Company) they had the work completed at Hope Mill. See post: The Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre

In the ‘old days’ fresh cut lumber had to be air-dried outdoors from six months to two years depending on the type of wood before it could be machined into finished lumber. Since 2006, Hope Mill Restoration Volunteers have been sawing lumber using the original 40 and 25 horsepower water-powered turbines. With the large output of lumber, space to air-dry and store lumber became an issue. One of the volunteers obtained plans for a solar-powered kiln and the volunteers built it using Hope Mill lumber. It has reduced their drying time (to a moisture content of 6%) in a remarkable 2-3 weeks for most of the sawn lumber, while some species such as oak can take several months. The kiln is built on a 6’ by 12’ floor, and will hold a 4’ by 4’ by 10’ pile of planks, spaced as it would be outdoors, with stickers (long thin slats of wood) to allow airflow between layers of lumber. Two solar powered fans are used to ensure good air movement…as long as the sun is shining.


Thanks to the knowledgeable tour guides, the time spent at Hope Mill brought back many memories, such as using a cant hook…an oversized ‘baseball bat’ pole with a hinged ‘fishhook’ on the end. When the hook was stuck in a log, the long pole acted like a lever to roll over logs. I used the cant hook many times as a youngster helping my father load telephone poles from our farm onto a trailer for delivery to the phone company work yard in Coldsprings. I remember watching the Witney Howard tractor- powered saw mill at Bethel Grove saw the lumber we used on the farm in Camborne.

The Ranger can still recall the former campground at the Hope Mills Conservation Area many, many years ago. This was a great experience for myself and young sons David & Mark. With mother left at home, we loaded up the old red Chevy cargo van that I had converted into living quarters, complete with fold-down beds. With the tent, BBQ and propane tank left at home we enjoyed a weekend outing sleeping in the van and cooking meals over a campfire with firewood purchased from the Hope Mill. Swimming and the ‘Peterborough’ canoe strapped to the roof of the van supplied most of our entertainment.

Regards, Ranger.

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