Pam Savage

Pam Savage - Owner and Steward of Frye's Measure Mill

Pam SavageFrye’s Measure Mill is the oldest water-powered measure mill in the country. It has operated continuously since its founding by Daniel Cragin in 1858 in the Davisville section of Wilton. Cragin designed and developed much of the machinery that is still in use, although it can now be run by electricity.

“We’re still making boxes,” owner Pam Savage said recently, in spite of the general economy and shut downs forced by the Corona virus, all beyond anyone’s control. Gift shops and tourist attractions have been hit hard.  The mill was acquired by Pam’s father-in-law Harland Savage Sr. in the 1960s, and continued by Pam and her husband, Harland Savage Jr. With the help of their children, she has been the operator since her husband’s death from cancer five years ago.

“We’ve started a Mill Restoration Fund,” she said. “We need to keep the mill going and make sure some needed repairs are done.” Any 200-year-old building is in constant need of work.

Frye's Measure MillThe gift shop Pam helped establish many years ago is open weekends, as is a self-guided tour of the millworks. “I’m depending right now on volunteers,” Pam said. “We’re trying to figure out how to keep it all together.”

Originally from the Chicago area, Pam Porter moved to Milford when she was about 12 and her father accepted a position at Hitchner Manufacturing. She and Harley Savage met and married at U.N.H. about 1970. She has been at the mill ever since. “Moving to Milford was wonderful,” she said. “I just loved it.”

The measure mill has a long and colorful history, but surprisingly few owners. Founder Daniel Cragin sold the business to his neighbor, Dr. Edmund Frye in 1909. His son, Whitney Frye developed the business, moving it into the 20th century, and the mill still has their names: E.B. Frye and Sons. Whitney modernized the process but retained the original equipment and expanded the business.

Frye's Measure MillHarland Savage Sr. came to the mill as a veteran of World War II looking for full-time work as a carpenter. Within a year he was general manager and spent the next ten years as a millwright. He acquired the mill in 1961.

Pam has been involved in the business since her marriage, as her husband took over more and more of the operations from his father. “We started the gift shop as sort of a sideline,” she said, and it expanded into the operation it is now.

Pam also developed the designs she paints onto the boxes. “That’s a lot of designs over the past 50 years.” She was working recently on a delicate leaf design around the rim of a small Shaker box. With markets shrinking, they have reduced the number of items made. “I do the rims now instead of the tops. That way you can stack them and still see the design. We’re going now to just black on tan and natural fruit wood.”

Frye's Measure MillThe signature Shaker boxes were added in the 1960s at the request of Eldress Bertha Linsay of Canterbury. For many year’s Frye’s supplied their museum as well as the Smithsonian Institution museum in Washington, D.C. “Colonial Williamsburg was one of our biggest customers for years,” Pam said.

The making of too many such souvenirs moved to cheaper production in China.

Pam learned how to make boxes about ten years ago during her husband’s final illness. She had been involved in various ways before that. “It is a long and complicated process,” she said, and the only way to learn it is to do it and make the inevitable mistakes. “That results in a lot of ruined boxes.”

The mill’s other signature product is a “piggin,” a wooden dipper which had many uses. Daniel Cragin’s crude design was refined into the finely turned and wooden pegged piece now available. Origin of the name is disputed. Harland Sr. said it was what you put “table scraps of the pig in.”

Pam said they have spent a lot of time trying to find someone, or some organization, to take over the mill and continue to operate it and keep the traditions alive, and preserve it as a working museum. The mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 “We’ll keep it going as long as we can,” Pam said, extending an invitation to the public to once again come and visit, marvel at the past, and buy a box or two. “My son is working on various ways in increase income. “We don’t want to have to sell it,” she said.

To visit the mill’ online store, go to

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