Fairbanks-Morse Does Double-Duty

| February/March 1992

  • Sawmill
    In this 1987 photo Bill Clements operates the 'American No. 2' sawmill he restored and powers with the Fairbanks-Morse. (Photo courtesy of The Enterprise newspaper.)
  • 1923 Fairbanks -Morse
    The engine room was not big enough to get the entire engine in this photo but it does give a feeling for the size of the 1923 Fairbanks -Morse at Cecil's Mill in St. Mary's County, Maryland. (Photo by Betty Fowler)
    Betty Fowler

  • Sawmill
  • 1923 Fairbanks -Morse

8254 Riviera Dr., Severn, Maryland 21144-2429

In 1923 the Leonardtown Ice Company placed an order for a single-cylinder 50 HP vertical oil engine with the Fairbanks-Morse Company. Primarily, the engine was to serve as the compressor of the refrigerant in the ice-making process. This occurred before the arrival of the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) and electricity to St. Mary's County in southern Maryland. The company delivered the engine on February 12, 1924. Secondarily, the engine drove the D.C. generator which supplied electricity to the town.

By 1927, the demands for electricity grew such that the town needed a larger engine, so this old engine was replaced. Fortunately, the story did not end there. Mr. H. Robb Cecil and his father, Mr. John T. Cecil operated a mill in Great Mills, Maryland, which itself needed more power to operate the machinery. Originally, Cecil's Mill used an overshot steel water wheel to operate the grist mill and a sawmill. Later, John Cecil installed a stationary steam engine to supplement water power, which was vulnerable to drought conditions. In 1927, H. Robb Cecil moved the Fairbanks-Morse to the mill where it shared the power-generation chores. With the engine came the first electricity to Great Mills. The Cecil Mill generated electricity using water power, steam power and, finally, diesel power.

The generator functioned while the mill operated and storage batteries handled the lighting load when the mill was quiet. At times, the mill operated 24 hours per day. John T. Cecil maintained that the wheat ground better at night. Perhaps it had something to do with the moisture in the air. The REA did not arrive until 1949.

Today, the mill-race stands dry, the ten-foot tall by twelve-foot wide water wheel is silent and the stationary steam engine seems to have left no trace. Steam and water-powered grinding and sawing stopped when John T. Cecil died. His son, H. Robb Cecil continued to operate the mill, using the Fairbanks-Morse alone until his death in a sawmill accident in 1959.

A brass plaque embedded in stone at the mill site reads:


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