Topaz Mill - Dry Plate Diary June 27, 2021
As part of a scouting trip this weekend, I visited Topaz Mill so I would know what to expect when I return with my 1889 Eastman Dry Plate 5x7 large format view camera.
Much to my surprise the owner's of Topaz Mill came out and greeted us and took time out of their day to show us around. It was a wonderful time and I can't wait to return with my dry plate camera.
The first mill at this location was built in 1840 and the current mill was built in 1895.
Topaz Mill is an impressive three stories tall and it is in amazing condition for its age.
Topaz Mill is now privately owned by the O'Neal family and is located in a peaceful river valley that is sure to lower your blood pressure and put a smile on your face.
The O'Neal's are friendly people that love to share the history of Topaz Mill with interested parties. Mr. O'Neal has a lot of knowledge about the mill and the inner workings of the systems and machines.
I spent a couple hours with the O'Neals and they were gracious hosts that made us feel right at home.
In its prime, the mill was part of a larger set of resources for locals to include a general store, cannery, blacksmith, post office, and even a barber shop.
The general store is right next to the mill and these two historic buildings are all that is left of the once-thriving village of Topaz located in Douglas County just south of Cabool, Missouri.
The mill is powered by a spring that creates 10 million gallons of spring water every day. Mr. O'Neal still grinds corn and makes cornmeal from time to time for visitors. The day I visited, he had just made some cornmeal for visitors earlier in the week.
The mill is in excellent condition for its age and is very unique because most all of the original machines and equipment are still inside the mill. A copy of the original paperwork and sales records for all of the equipment are on display inside the mill.
This mill is powered by a turbine which is different than most visitors expect. I think people expect to see a large paddle wheel. There was a large wheel for display purposes at one point, but it has been gone for over 20 years now.
At its peak, Topaz Mill could produce up to 40 barrels of flour per day, weighing almost 100 pounds each. The mill ceased operations in the 1930's, but the general store located next door continued to operate into the 1940's.
The owners have a Facebook Page that you can visit and learn more information about this amazing and wonderful piece of American history.
1880's STYLE SILVER GELATIN GLASS PLATE NEGATIVES
Based on the history of the mill, I am excited to return and photograph this historic 1895 mill using handmade silver gelatin dry plate glass negatives loaded in my 1889 Eastman Dry Plate 5x7 large format camera.
The AZO handmade contact prints that I create with the dry plates represent what they would have looked like back when the mill was built in the 1890's.
The handmade silver gelatin dry plates are developed in the darkroom under red safelight and then contact printed in the darkroom on some handmade AZO silver chloride paper.
I make the silver gelatin emulsions in the lab for the glass plate negatives and for the photographic paper and then hand coat them just like it was done in the 1880's and 1890's.
The handmade silver gelatin dry plates are remnants of an era gone by, just like the grist mills and I think this is why this medium is the perfect choice to tell the story of this amazing mill.
The look and feel of a silver gelatin dry plate and a handmade AZO silver chloride contact print cannot be duplicated with modern day digital cameras because the silver gelatin emulsion is a chemical-based process that responds to light much differently than modern digital cameras. All of the imperfections of the handmade process are part of the history and story of an era gone by.
TOPAZ MILL BEHIND THE SCENES PHOTOS
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Keywords: analog photography, black and white, darkroom, Dry Plate, fine art, Silver Gelatin Emulsion
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