Whitaker's Mill Historic District
1210, 1212, 1213, Whitaker Mill Road, Benson, Harford County
The Whitaker's Mill Historic District is a recognizable and discreet entity in the rapidly developing area southwest of Bel Air in Harford County. The district includes three early-to-mid 19th century buildings: the 1851 2 1/2-story rubble stone Whitaker's Mill, the 1 1/2-story miller's house (probably built at the same time and also of rubble stone), and the log and frame Magness House, begun c. 1800 as the miller's house for the first mill on the site and added to in the mid-19th century. The district also includes an iron truss bridge. Constructed in 1878, the bridge is the oldest such span in the county. The district's boundaries are defined by three lines and hilltops which effectively screen out surrounding mid-20th century subdivisions. Landscaping is natural, as befits industrial buildings in a picturesque site. Winters Run, which furnished water power for the mill and courses through the district, is lined with vine-covered trees and the yards around the buildings are, and in all likelihood always have been, planted in an informal manner with a few trees and clumps of American boxwood and other native shrubs. In all the district has remained visually virtually unchanged from its c. 1890 appearance, when it was a thriving and important industrial center.
The Whitaker's Mill Historic District is primarily significant because if offers a relatively rare opportunity to see the sort of industrial complex which once formed the basis of the Harford County economy. For two centuries, from roughly 1725 until 1920, grist mills were among the most dominant structures on the Harford landscape. Scholarly estimates of the number of mills range from 100 to roughly 400. The larger number includes flint mills and related activities as well. of these once numerous structures only 10 remain and two of these are rapidly deteriorating. Moreover, Whitaker's Mill was the most productive of all the county's mills, at least in terms of value and goods. The present mill was built about 1851 and closed grist milling operations about 1900. The district gains further significance as an example of mid-19th century capitalism because it contains not only the mill, but also the mill owner's house as well as the house of the man hired to run the mill. Finally, the district contains Harford County Bridge No. 51, the oldest documented iron bridge in the county. The entire complex, mill, miller's house, mill owner's house, and bridge, has managed to retain its picturesque, late 19th century rural identity in an area that is now characterized by suburban tract housing.