The Gamble Mill, located near the Lamb Street bridge in Bellefonte, was a water-powered gristmill built more than two centuries ago. It was an important part of the history of Bellefonte and of the more than 150 years of grain milling in Centre County. Now operated as a restaurant and hotel, it is one of only three mills still standing in the Spring Creek watershed.
William Lamb, who founded the village of Lamb’s Crossing, saw opportunity in the site at a time when mills were needed to serve farmers within a day’s travel by wagon, about five to ten miles. It is believed that Lamb built a mill on the site as early as 1786, although documentation regarding a gristmill does not appear until circa 1800.
Gristmills were an important business in the region. By 1810, thirty-one were tallied in a Centre County industry assessment and nineteen in the Spring Creek watershed.
In 1795, Bellefonte founders John Dunlop and James Harris bought much of Lamb’s property to create the borough. In 1800, Dunlop’s son-in-law, James Smith, rebuilt the mill on the site and owned it until 1809. Fed by Spring Creek, the millrace turned a large water wheel that powered the mill. A terminal of the Bellefonte branch of the Pennsylvania Canal was nearby.
Over the years as ownership changed hands, Gamble Mill was known as Lamb Mill, Thomas Mill, Wagner Mill, and Bellefonte Flouring Mill. One of the owners was William Ashbridge Thomas, who bought the mill in 1834. He is better known in local history as an agent in the Underground Railroad.
On May 25, 1892, a large fire at a grain warehouse next door burned two acres of the waterfront and extensively damaged the mill. It was rebuilt and operating again by 1893. Also in the 1890s, the water wheel was replaced with a turbine, which was used for many years to pump water to parts of Bellefonte.
P. B. Crider & Sons purchased the mill in 1898. Within a few years, the Criders were establishing the Pennsylvania Match Co. nearby and sold the mill to George M. Gamble. The mill’s namesake owned it from 1901 to 1923.
The mill changed hands several times until Bellefonte borough purchased it in 1931. The borough used the turbine to pump water from the millrace to different sections of town.
The mill later was used as a feed supply, and after that, a beer distributor known as Bellefonte Beverage. During flooding from Hurricane Agnes in 1972, water ran thorough the lower levels of the mill, carrying empty kegs down Spring Creek.
By then, the mill was considered an eyesore. The borough condemned the building and it was slated for demolition early in 1975. But a group of residents, led by Rob Fisher and his wife, True, convinced Bellefonte resident Ted H. Conklin to purchase the mill.
Conklin, who was a young industrial arts teacher at Bald Eagle Area High School, restored the mill and got it placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The register’s data sheet calls it “a valuable example of gristmill construction in a region where gristmills were once prevalent” and notes its “surviving 18th and 19th century spaces and materials,” including the section of stone wall at the rear that dates to its construction in 1786.
It was operated as a restaurant, including a small brewery on the premises, until its owners closed it in 2015. In December 2019, it was bought by brothers Christopher and Jonathan Virgilio, who renovated the building into a small hotel, bar, and restaurant, which opened in August 2021.
Besides Gamble Mill, the county’s still-standing mills are Brockerhoff Mill, built around 1859, and C.Y. Wagner Mill, built in 1920.
Maris, Matt. Memories of the Gamble Mill. Lemont: Mt. Nittany Press, 2022.
McLaughlin, Robert. “The Gristmills of the Spring Creek Watershed,” Spring Creek Watershed Atlas https://www.springcreekwatershedatlas.org/ (Accessed August 25, 2022).
“Gamble Mill,” Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association http://www.bellefontearts.org/Virtual_walk/Gamble_Mill.htm (Accessed August 25, 2022).
“Gamble Mill,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.
First Published: September 25, 2022
Last Modified: January 7, 2023