The Yost Grist Mill
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
Frederick Yost was a successful businessman who had much influence over the development of Springville. When he arrived here in the early 1820s, he purchased the Benjamin Royer house and property. The house and barn once stood where the Flag House now stands and his land extended all the way down to the river. Yost built a store, a coal yard, and a lumberyard in this small town. He also had a large storehouse and merchant mill.
The road passing along his property ending at Main Street was named after him and still bears the name of “Yost Avenue”. The first business enterprise in what was to become Springville was officially known as the "Yost Grist and Saw Mill" in 1826. The building of a gristmill and sawmill are probably the most important components in the development of a young growing community. Yost’s mill was located just a few feet upstream from the river bridge entrance on the Spring City side of the river.
The mill, at first, operated with waterpower and was later powered by steam engines. Before the Pennsylvania Railroad was built, the island in the river was more than twice its size today. On the Chester County side the river extended all the way to the towpath of the canal. What we now call the Mill Dam was part of the river around the west side of the island. A dam was placed across this west side of the river and a big ditch, more appropriately called a mill race, carried the water to the mill. When the railroad was constructed, it was necessary to erect a trestle over the lower section of the dam as well as one over the upper part of the river above the island.
After the grist mill converted to steam power, the railroad backfilled all of the ground surrounding these trestles and covered over part of the dam. What remained was the mill pond that we have today. It can also be noted that the building of the canal in 1824 also helped alter the flow of the river at this location. In the early years of the mill (1826) most of the lumber used in this area was processed at the Yost Mill. As the availability of large trees dwindled operations were quickly switched over to the milling end of the business. The steady growth of people along with their horses, cattle and other animals put a premium on grain and food products.
Frederick Yost was married to Mary Christman and they had a daughter named Eliza, who was born in 1822. Mary had been married previously to Jacob Finkbiner and there were several stepchildren in the family. In fact John and Susanna Finkbiner lived with their stepsister, Eliza Yost, for many years on the family farm they inherited from Eliza’s dad, Frederick. Jesse Finkbiner, a stepson, carried on the business at the mill after Frederick Yost died in 1847. He is shown on early maps as owner and operator of the old mill. Jesse also owned the property that extended from the river to the canal and above Bridge Street. He owned the island also.
He farmed the land and operated the mill in the name of Finkbiner & Co. After Jesse died the property changed owners frequently. In 1872, Mr. Elmer Saylor & Brother started operating the mill.
During the late evening hours of May 4th, 1884, a fire was discovered in the boiler and engine room of the mill. This fire spread so fast the mill could not be saved. With the covered bridge being only a few feet away it too became enveloped with flames from the spreading fire and could not be saved. For the remainder of 1884 and well into 1885, a new iron bridge was constructed on the spot where the covered wooden one once stood.
For many years the only thing remaining from this disastrous fire was the old brick smokestack from the mill. This structure lasted so long that many people did not remember its origin. It was not removed until 1922 when the current day cement bridge was erected.
"The Yost Spring" (Newspaper Clipping)
Numerous springs in the area, and one in particular that was discovered on the Yost farm in 1830, gave rise to the name "Springville". The Yost spring supplied the town pump that was located at Main & Yost Avenue just a short distance down the hill from the spring.
A correspondent, “W.P.B.” writes us the following: It is not generally known that the great spring which gave Spring City its name was discovered by a gentleman who is now and has been, for many years, a resident of West Chester. Mr. Thomas Mahery Shaner, when a boy in 1830 was employed on the farm of Mr. Frederick Yost and to him the writer is indebted for the following scrap of history relating to the above named borough. He says that while plowing one day in a certain field on the Yost farm he
became very thirsty and upon his coming to a hollow bit of land he noticed a marked decomposition in the furrow, which his plow was making. Following up this pleasing clue he observed moisture came from a cluster of rocks and this led him to extend his explorations. Taking a stout stick he began digging away an accumulation of leaves and dirt and after working some time he was rewarded by seeing a good flow of water with a pretty bottom, and stooping down, he satisfied his thirst in the most satisfactory manner. The next morning he procured a hoe and shovel and returned to the spring. He dug it out to the depth of two feet and found the gravel white and pretty and the water was cold and refreshing. He naturally felt quite elated over his discovery.
William C. Brunner 2-28-2019