Description of Historic Place
The Sutherland Steam Mill is a two-and-one-half-storey wooden building located on Highway 311 in the small, rural community of Denmark, NS. This industrial building is a local landmark and is easily recognizable among the several residential, commercial and agricultural that comprise the building stock of the area. The mill building and land are recognized in the provincial heritage designation.
The Sutherland Steam Mill is valued for its tangible association with Nova Scotia’s industrial heritage; as one of only a few working nineteenth century steam mills; for its mainly intact and operating machinery; for its association with its builder and last owner; and as a museum.
The mill began as a steam-powered carriage factory, established by Alexander R. Sutherland, grandson of a Scottish immigrant. Sutherland was born in nearby West Branch and apprenticed as a carriage maker in the McKenzie Carriage Factory at West River. Circa 1891 he purchased land at Denmark, along side the newly constructed Pictou-Oxford Shortline. Here he set up a portable steam mill, protected by a make-shift building, awaiting the completion of a permanent building, and began producing lumber and carriages. Both the mill and structure were destroyed by fire and were replaced with the current building in 1894.
Sutherland quickly expanded and diversified the mill’s products. Like many rural mill owners, Sutherland processed feed grain for local farmers. For a time he was joined by his brother Thomas, who was a house builder, and the mill began producing sashes, doors and decorative pieces known as gingerbread, under the name Sutherland Bros. and Co. Many of the historic homes in the area were built using materials from the mill, including Sutherland’s, and remain extant.
At its busiest, the mill employed over a dozen men and boys, many of whom travelled a distance to work. A small bunkhouse and privy were erected on the site for them. The privy is no longer extant, however the bunkhouse remains.
Thomas Sutherland left the business around 1910 and Alexander operated solely until 1930 when his sixteen year old son, Wilfred, joined the business and the mill was renamed A.R. Sutherland and Son, General Woodworking. Alexander retired in 1940 and Wilfred continued the business as A.R. Sutherland and Company until 1958. In 1980 the Province of Nova Scotia purchased the site and following restoration of the building to its historic appearance, it was opened as a museum. Much of the machinery continues to function and the boiler, on occasion, is fired up for demonstrations.
Since its construction, the mill has undergone several changes and additions, mainly related to the incorporation of new machinery and product lines. The mill’s current appearance is much as it was at its closing, however its exterior colours have been returned to its turn of the twentieth century appearance. Most of the original and historic machinery remains and much of it was locally built, including engines built by Robb Engineering and several custom pieces built by the Sutherland brothers. The numerous pulleys, belts and shafting used to turn machines also remain.
Source: Provincial Heritage Property Program file no. 275
Exterior character-defining elements of the mill building of the Sutherland Steam Mill relate to its original function as a mill and include:
- two-and-one-half-storey post and beam resting on a stone foundation and wooden pillars on one side and cement on the other;
- gable roof with wooden shingles;
- roof-top water barrel fire suppression system;
- metal smokestack;
- metal sawdust hopper on roof;
- exterior wooden and metal chute system for removal of sawdust and slab wood;
- variety of siding – wooden clapboard, rolled roofing and wooden board and batten;
- attached shed protecting log carriage;
- variety of wooden window styles including two-over-two and three-over-three;
- wooden doors.
Interior character-defining elements of the mill building relates to its original function as a mill and include:
- all belts, pulleys, and shafts associated with the operation of machinery;
- wood-fired boiler;
- three steam engines;
- circular saw and carriage;
- all machinery either built by the Sutherlands, or purchased from Canadian and/or American manufacturers;
- wooden floors and walls;
- absence of plumbing.
General character-defining elements of the Sutherland Steam Mill Museum include:
- small wooden bunkhouse with gable roof;
- location in Denmark in close proximity to former Oxford-Pictou Railway line;
- location close to historic homes, including that of original owner, built using materials from the mill.