Down a dirt lane deep in Quirkutopia there is a hot, clanking round-up of loud, living history. The Sturgeon Mill Restoration Project is considered “one of the last great mills of its time”, and we believe it. It is gorgeously run on steam power by huge old machines that still produce some circle-sawn wood that is as high-character as the area residents.
Originally built in the 1880, the mill came into the Sturgeon family’s hands in 1913, and was moved by them 2 times to new locations. It sawed a lot of the wood that went into rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Lumber from the mill helped build a lot of Quirkutopia’s homes and hundreds of its chicken farms according to Bob Sturgeon, who is carrying on the family sawmill tradition.
The mill shut down in 1964 when his dad Ralph retired. Ralph kept oiling and running the old machinery like a pet old classic car. When the younger generation decided to restore it in 1999 with the help of many volunteers, it was in working order. For the first time in decades, the steam whistle that summoned workers again blew.
There are 44 volunteers that come once a month to work on the mill, and to restore the gardens that became so famous each year about 4000 people came out to see them. The gardens, once overgrown with blackberries and poison oak, are now cleared and the exotic and native old plantings, hidden mossy benches, some odd old statues and lily ponds are once more revealed.
Each year the mill volunteers holds just a few visitor days when anyone can stop by to see the industrial age machinery do its heavy work, the giant blades whirr their way through the big redwood logs, and hear that magic stream whistle. There’s a barbecue, music, and old vehicles hauling the lumber and giving rides. We are so there. The dates this year are May 19/20 (10 days from now!), June 16/17, August 18/19 and September 15/16. It’s free; donations are welcome. Check it all out at http://www.sturgeonsmill.com .