At the north end of Moretown Village, the Ward Clapboard Mill has been manufacturing quarter clapboards since 1870. It was founded by Hiram O. Ward and was run continuously by members of the Ward family until Holly Ward died in 2016.
Jan and Chris Tierson, who purchased the mill in 2017, are no strangers to the mill’s historical role in the town, having lived adjacent to it since 2000 in the historical building that used to house Grandma’s Restaurant off Fletcher Road.
Jan Tierson’s training is as an engineer, but he also has a background in logging and timber operations. He was well acquainted with Bob Pierce, the lead sawyer at the mill, and had worked with him during Tropical Storm Irene and had in fact hosted him when Pierce, who lives next door to the mill on the Mad River, was displaced by the flooding.
“Bob lived next to the mill and has worked there for 25 years. He was interested in staying on. I knew him very well and had a lot of confidence in his ability. He encouraged me to pursue the purchase,” Tierson said.
TOOK NEXT STEPS
He’d been looking for a small business opportunity for some time at that point, so he took the next steps. He and his wife were able to purchase the mill from Holly Ward’s estate as an asset and at the last minute they were able to secure the purchase of the Ward name for the clapboard mill.
The operation is relatively small with four employees including Pierce and Tierson, and the clapboards they make are for the wholesale market where there is a consistent demand.
“We’re the only manufacturer of these traditional squared-edged clapboards in the country. Most clapboards are now manufactured with West Coast species. They are thicker and have a slight radius on the edge,” he said.
Part of their business is from people doing renovations and wanting to match with their historical clapboards and another segment comes from people doing historic reconstruction.
Moretown resident and business owner Ben Falk is a fan of the clapboards and the mill and having a local land-based production facility in his town.
“It’s an important and very unique story – the fact that a multi-hundred-year-old local business not only is still open but being revitalized,” Falk, owner of Whole Systems Design, said.
“The mill is fascinating. It represents some of the best use of our local resources here and how to value-add them. These are probably the best clapboards one can buy in this country, bar none. They are perfectly quarter-sawn, which means they don’t move a millimeter – no swelling, shrinking, warping, cupping. They are incredibly stable. We used them on our office where they are as tight as they were at installation 10 years ago with nothing applied to them. Farmers have had these on barns for more than 50 years with no paint or stain. It’s some of the best product we can make in this part of the world and clapboards – building siding – are as essential as a local material comes,” Falk added.
Falk created a video of the mill in operation that can be viewed on YouTube. It depicts Pierce and another employee operating the mill and a glimpse of the fascinating machinery at work as well as the practiced and sure steps of the workers as the logs are turned at just the right angle to create the clapboards. It can be seen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMcBbaivqPA
CUT HERE IF NECESSARY
Hiram Ward’s first mill was on Dowsville Brook in Duxbury across from Harwood Union. He also purchased the surrounding land for timber and continued to acquire land for timber. In short order, he had a mill on the road to Camel’s Hump as well.
In simple terms, mills were built at a point on a stream or river where the flow of water and the head (vertical drop) of that flow would create the most force to provide energy. It is the same principle used today to run water turbines. In the early days, once the dam was constructed, the head provided powerful forces to drive the waterwheel. And it was exactly this reason that brought Hiram Ward to Moretown, for the Mad River, as it flowed through Moretown, had a significant drop in elevation. Therefore, it provided the head necessary to drive the mill wheels.
In the early 1870s Hiram purchased the gristmill in Moretown, which was located on the site of the current clapboard mill (which is still in operation). He operated that mill and then built the Lower Mill. It was followed shortly thereafter by the Upper Mill. Although he continued to own and operate other mills, Moretown became the home base for Ward Lumber Company and became the town’s largest employer.