15. Mill Race
The mill race is the channel that brings water in, through, and away from the mill. Water diverted from the river enters through the head race and exits through the tail race, turning the mill wheel that powers the machinery. Though Damon Mill has not functioned as a mill since the 1920s, the raceway is still visible outside the building as well as inside, where this original feature has been retained through a variety of uses and renovations.
The Damon Mill tail race is 400 feet long and 25 feet wide. Its present configuration is the result of a conversion undertaken by Calvin Carver Damon in the late 1830s-early 1840s to improve water flow. His son Edward was responsible for the cut-granite lined walls, a significant improvement made in the 1860s-70s. Architectural historian Anne Forbes suggests that Edward Damon's upgrade of the tail race was a major structural change that led to the growth and development of Westvale in the second half of the nineteenth century. During the late nineteenth century a bridge spanned the raceway, but that section of its course is now routed through a metal culvert that runs beneath Main Street.
In his Social Circle biography of Edward Damon, Henry F. Smith wrote:
" I was at the mill one day when Mr. Damon was making extensive repairs on the wheels and putting in that handsome, substantial wall the entire length of the raceway, and said to him, "You are laying out a good deal of money here." He replied, "Yes, I am, but I don't intend to have my children go through what I have, and I am doing this job in such a manner that they will not have to do it over again after I am gone.'"
Edward Damon's comment was prophetic. The wall outlasted not only his children and grandchildren; the strong granite blocks still line the raceway today as solidly as they did when he oversaw the project over a century ago.
This vintage postcard shows the Damon Mill dam as it leads into the mill race.