Historic Nassawadox Sawmill ready for public exhibition on May 6

Richard Dryden talks about the types of lumber that can be cut from a log at the Nassawadox Sawmill.

BY STEFANIE JACKSON, Eastern Shore Post —

The Nassawadox Sawmill hasn’t operated in about 70 years, but much of it has been restored and will make its public debut Saturday, May 6, at the Peninsula Tractor Organization’s inaugural Antique Tractor Day at the Sawmill.

The event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will offer something for everyone, old and young, including antique tractors, an antique gas engine, corn shelling, hayrides, and a demonstration of both the sawmill and a shingle mill.

Food and drinks will be provided by Northampton Fire & Rescue, of Nassawadox, with proceeds from the sales benefiting the fire company.

Peninsula Tractor Organization members Richard and Laurie Dryden invited everyone to visit Nassawadox Sawmill, an integral “part of our local history” on the Eastern Shore.

The Northampton Lumber Company, which has been in business since 1887, started out as both a sawmill and building supply store.

The business was owned and operated by three local families who still maintain a presence on the Shore: the Chandlers, the Hollands, and the Walkers.

Bart Holland, a local funeral home owner and insurance agent, is one of the oldest living members of the three families. 

He is featured on the YouTube video, “A day at the Nassawadox Saw Mill with Bart Holland,” in which he shares his memories of the sawmill, stemming back to his childhood.

The sawmill still standing in Nassawadox is actually the Northampton Lumber Company’s second, built in 1937. The sawmill shut down in the 1950s, but the building supply store remained open and still operates today.

When the sawmill was a working facility, the equipment was powered by steam and its boiler was fueled by sawdust and wood shavings. 

For the demonstration, the sawmill will be powered by a Farmall tractor connected to the mill by a mechanical belt.

Visitors will see how a log loaded onto the sawmill is squared off and cut into common types of lumber, such as a two-by-four.

They will also see the shingle mill in action, cutting and trimming wood shingles that could cover the exterior of a home.

The shingle mill on loan for the event was patented in 1878 and made by the Lane manufacturing company, the “Cadillac” of mills in its day, Richard Dryden said.

Sample shingles branded with the Peninsula Tractor Organization’s initials will be given away to children at the event.

There is also a variety of antique farm equipment on display at the sawmill, from a plow to a horse-drawn cart that was the “dump truck” of its time, Dryden said.

Nassawadox Sawmill is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of only a few sawmills of its kind remaining.

The sawmill occupies property owned by the town of Nassawadox, which it subleases to the tractor organization for $1 annually.

The town also installed the chain-link fence along the perimeter of the sawmill property.

Both Nassawadox and Northampton County have “been very good to us,” supporting PTO’s historic preservation project at the sawmill and assisting the organization in obtaining grants, the Drydens said.

The Peninsula Tractor Organization was formed in 2009 with about 10 members and began its mission to restore Nassawadox Sawmill around 2018.

The project has come a long way since then but there is still work to be done.

PTO membership peaked at about 120, but that number dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, and membership currently is about 70 or 80.

Through events like PTO’s antique tractor day, the organization hopes to attract new, younger members who will help the Nassawadox Sawmill project lumber over the finish line.

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