The lumber- and grinding mills of Szeklerland

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History - Traditions

According to László Márton, PhD, in the Middle Ages everything driven by water was a mill, no matter if it was a saw, a grinding mill or any other device. In the first third of the 20th century Szeklerland had,  besides grinding mills, (at least) 2-3 lumbermills in the areas with forests. The larger “centres” even had between 10 to 50 sawmills. The total of sawmills per region was around 100 (or more). The Gyergyó Basin (Depresiunea Giurgeului), Maros Valley (Valea Mureșului) and the Csík Basin (Depresiunea Ciucului) were among the most well known lumbering centers, but the Baróti or Erdővidéki Basin (Depresiunea Baraolt) was also famous for its lumbermills. Unfortunately, there are only 10 watermills still preserved in the Gyergyó Basin – in Eszenyő (Sineu), Vasláb (Voșlăbeni) belonging to Gyergyóremete (Remetea) township and in Gyergyószentmiklós (Gheorgheni), on the Békény creek (here you can find the “Living Museum of hydro powered structures” belonging to the Tarisznyás Márton Museum). In the vicinity of Csík, near the village of Csíkmadaras (Mădăraș), on the island between the Olt and Madicsa streams, there is a monument-water mill, just like in Csíkszentmihály (Mihăileni), Gyímesközéplok (Lunca de Jos), Borospatak (Valea Boroș) and Görbepatak (Valea Gârbea). In the vicinity of Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc), in Korond (Corund), where in the old days there used to be all kind of mills (for making paint, flour, lumber etc.), today only the 200 year old Györfi mill is still “alive”. Likewise, the watermills, wool fullers, old wooden buildings and any related crafts are considered cultural heritage, although they “endangered” practices (these tourist attractions can be seen and visited in Székelyvarság/Vărșag, Szentegyháza/Vlăhița, Lövéte/Lutea, Homoródszentmárton/Mărtiniș and Homoródalmás/Merești). In the Háromszék (Trei Scaune) region, where in the 19th-20th centuries more than 100 mills were functioning, today just Csernáton (Cernat), Kéziszentlélek (Sânzieni), Kisbacon (Bățanii Mici) and Magyarhermány (Herculian) villages have productive watermills.

The mills were not only important social hubs and meeting places, but their establishments and maintenance meant complicated property relations and strict cooperation rules. In many cases, the mill was the property of a family (e.g. the Bencze sawmill), but documents show that there was a specific Szekler solution to “become” a miller: it was the so-called “friendship-property” (several families, in many cases even 10, created an “association”, contributing with field, materials, labour and any other material goods to build lumbermill). The usage of such mills had severe pre-established rules. The smooth operation of the mills was managed by the Mónártársulat (Miller-brotherhood), which managed the water, solved the conflicts regarding water distribution, and organized the de-frosting of the frozen waters in winter. Because they had to solve problems (like fixing gear cogs) that seems a serious challenge even for the smartest engineer, the millers of Csernáton (Cernat) considered the mill a devilish construction invented by men.

Perhaps there is no other invention that embodies at the same time the passing of the time, the human creativity and life-giving labour combined with the fierce forces of nature such as the watermills. The mills are the meeting “place” of blind energies and human lives, fertility and resourcefulness. They are not just gears and machines, but memories and objects that remind you to meditate and find yourself: objects of peace and quiet.

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Ungvári Zrínyi Imre

Philosophy Specialist, Associate Professor