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Home » HISTORY » RHODE ISLAND » Gray's Grist Mill, Adamsville, Rhode Island
Gray's Grist Mill, Adamsville, Rhode Island

By P. Ann Pieroway | July 25, 2010

Last week I was lucky enough to be driving the back roads of the South Coast of Massachusetts around Westport. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was warm and comforting.

I had always heard about the four corners of Tiverton, Rhode Island so instead of heading to the Interstate I decided to enjoy the countryside and to try and find Tiverton.

Cruising along Adamsville Road, I noticed an old Grist Mill to my left and then saw the sign, “Gray’s Grist Mill”. For years this mill had supplied bags of its delicious ground cornmeal to area stores and gift shops and I had always wanted to visit. Today, I finally got that opportunity. Technically the mill is in Westport, but its address is in Adamsville, Rhode Island. It seems the mill lies 100 feet east of the Rhode Island state line and is at the head of the west branch of the Westport River, also known at the Acoaxet River.

Historians posit that there has been a mill at this location since 1675. The first deed of ownership can be traced back to Philip Taber in 1717, and the village of Adamsville, RI was known as “Taber’s Mill” until the 1800s. At that time grist mills were plentiful throughout New England, but today there are only a few left including one in Sandwich, Massachusetts and at the Wayside Inn in Wayland, Massachusetts. The climate and soils of the region were not conducive to growing wheat, but were great for growing corn. This meant that the breads were made from corn which became known as “journey cakes” or Jonnycakes.

While mills grind a variety of grains, the most popular at Gray’s Mill was the Narragansett Indian Flint Corn, native to Rhode Island. It was originally a species of native grass grown by the local Indians. This particular species cannot be grown near any other corn. Why you say, because flint corn “reproduces by open air pollination, and mutates on contact with any other strains”. Only flint corn can be used in the traditional “jonnycake.”

According to The Society for the Propagation of the Jonnycake Tradition in Rhode Island, only Rhode Island has johnnycakes (no “h”). This spelling was established by an act of the State Legislature. Exactly what are “jonnycakes.” It is a thin pancake made from white cornmeal made from local flint corn. However, in Rhode Island it depends on which county in the state you are from as to how you make your jonnycakes.

The Society has prepared a cookbook that is available at the mill. It contains over 10 different recipes for Indian Pudding, and at least 20 for corn bread.

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