July 14, 2020
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A functioning sawmill near Sebastopol

  • Lumberjacks ready to turn on engines Photo by Cliff Mills

By: Irene Hilsendager
October 18, 2019

Visiting a real-life sawmill was entertaining however being only a few miles from the ocean, it was smart to dress in layers.

Leaving Cotati, the temperature was 40 degrees and not much warming was observed as we arrived on Spring Hill Rd. in Sebastopol.

Walking across the parking lot, a very strong scent of saw dust was wafting in the air and making the throat feel dry.

Noises were abundant as whistles were blasting and other high sounds were being pitched and with the steam engines giving off hisses and chugs, it sounded like a musical concert. 

A very large circular saw was cutting into a supply of logs with sounds of whining and whirring and buzzing. As the saw buzzed, sawdust was falling down like a snowstorm.  Yes, standing at Sturgeon’s Mill was a blast from the past.

Seeing old machinery that looked vaguely familiar, a mass of volunteers were milling around dressed as lumber jacks back in the 1920s.

Sturgeon’s Mill is a working museum. It means all of the components being displayed have been restored to working conditions. If any parts of the mill break or are missing, these particular parts or components have to be made by hand as you won’t find parts at the local hardware store.

There aren’t many functional sawmills left, but Sturgeon’s Mill began its course in 1913 and eventually shut down in 1964; then stood quietly until the 90s when it was restored by volunteers and opened as a living history museum.  The museum is only open in the summer months and Oct. 12 and 13 were the last days of 2019 for tours.

This last of the summer event is a great place for families to enjoy the workings of a real sawmill but you can also see pieces of epoch equipment related to the lumber industry, but you may also see tools that came from Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward’s tool departments.

In the early 90s a base group of seven historians that were former mill workers began to mantle the mill piece by piece. The sawmill runs on steam with over 60 volunteers that operate the mill and conduct tours.

The enthusiastic volunteers formed the crux of the Sturgeon’s Mill Restoration Project with some tender and a pledge to save the sawmill. 

In order to get a 501 (c) 3 non-profit status, three of the volunteers had to turn over their interest in the sawmill to the Sturgeon’s Restoration Project Corporation; so now this non-profit corporation is sincerely dedicated to the restoration of the mill as a working museum.

Now the working museum’s volunteer crew has grown from the original seven to over 60 craftsmen, women and historians who work on restoring equipment and the old mill on the first Saturday of each month.

As the day wore on, you could see some visitors getting tired, ears buzzing a little from hearing machinery belching steam and getting colder by the minute. As we moseyed a few miles east the weather was downright hot, but it was a day of history, noise and satisfaction to know we live very close to a real working sawmill. It is great for children to see how the large saws cut the lumber into boards.