From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 48, No. 3, September 2012
Have you ever wondered how Bone Mill Road got its name? Yes, there actually was a bone mill on this road. It sounds macabre, especially since the Gurley Cemetery is located at the intersection of this road and Ravine Road. However, the bone mill had nothing to do with the nearby cemetery.
Bone mills process the bones of slaughtered animals to produce fertilizer. Bone meal is an excellent source of phosphorus and other nutrients. It is valued as a slow-release organic fertilizer and until recently was also a common additive to animal feed. Its use in animal feed was discontinued in the 1990s when it was found to be a transmitter of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as “mad cow disease.”
Historically, bone meal was produced by first boiling the animal bones to make them brittle after drying out and to remove the fat. The fat was skimmed off and was used for such purposes as greasing cart or wagon wheels. After boiling, the bones were dried and then chopped into smaller, more manageable pieces. Finally they were ground into powder between rotating millstones. Due to the odorous nature of this operation, bone mills were usually located in sparsely populated areas.
In December of 1876, George H. Harris purchased a gristmill that stood on what is now Bone Mill Road. The gristmill was located where the defunct University hydraulic plant now stands, across from the mill pond.
George Harris was a Civil War veteran who had served as a private in Co. D of the 21st Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. He enlisted August 11, 1862 at the age of 34, leaving his wife and young children in charge of their farm in Eagleville. He mustered out June 16, 1865. Our Civil War exhibit includes transcriptions of several letters that he wrote to his family while in service.
A few years after purchasing the old gristmill, Harris and his son John improved and expanded the mill to include a bone processing operation.
The Willimantic Chronicle of May 31, 1883 reported that: “G.H. Harris and Son have built an addition to their corn and gristmill and the inside has been thoroughly remodeled. Belting now takes the place of the old fashioned cog wheel, and all is run on an improved plan. They operate three runs of stones doing general and custom work having one of the best bolts of flouring grain in the country. They manufacture a large quantity of bone and phosphate, the chemical and commercial value of which is second to none in market.”
The mill supplied fertilizer to most area farmers and one of their biggest customers was the nearby Storrs Agricultural School, founded in 1881.
It’s unknown how long the bone mill remained in operation but its memory lives on in the road that bears its name. George H. Harris died on November 16, 1897 and is buried at the Gurley Cemetery (aka Pink Ravine Cemetery) adjacent to the former mill.