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Saint Vincent Grist Mill and General Store

Youghiogheny

Saint Vincent Grist Mill and General Store

Bags of flourGrist mill exterior

Location Details

PHONE: 724-537-0304
ADDRESS: 300 Fraser Purchase Rd. (on Beatty Road)
Latrobe, PA 15650
HOURS: Mon-Sat 8am-4pm; closed Sundays

Description

Around the turn of the 6th century, a young student of law and philosophy went in search of God. When Benedict of Nursia finally emerged from his solitude, prayer, and penance, he established a monastery near Cassino, Italy. As word of Saint Benedict’s exploits began to grow, so did his following.

Centuries later, one follower was Boniface Wimmer. A monk from the Benedictine Abbey of Metten, Bavaria, Father Wimmer left his homeland for America. His mission was to educate the sons of German immigrants and to establish a new monastery in the new world.

By 1846, Father Wimmer had accomplished his goal — and much more. Settling in the foothills of the Chestnut Ridge (near Latrobe), he assumed responsibility for the existing Saint Vincent parish, and then founded the Saint Vincent Archabbey, Seminary, and College.

Today, the Saint Vincent Archabbey — the first Benedictine order in the United States — has 185 monks living, working, and studying in the community or serving in other parishes. It remains true to Father Wimmer’s vision of self-sufficiency: the community boasts its own power plant, fire department, machine shop, printing press, and gristmill.

Still turning wheat into flour, the gristmill operates much as it did in the beginning. Built in 1854, the three-story mill was originally powered by steam generated by a coal furnace, which was stoked by the monks who mined their own coal. Employing an elaborate series of elevators and chutes and two burrstones (each weighing one ton), the milling process can transform a single bushel of wheat into 36 pounds of unbleached flour.

Throughout the decades, the gristmill has undergone expansions, renovations, and a conversion to electricity in 1952. Today, the mill and general store stand as the cornerstones to Saint Vincent’s museum and visitor’s center.

The public is invited to watch the gristmill in action and purchase bags of Saint Vincent’s own whole wheat flour, unbleached flour, corn meal, and bran — all hand-tied with the traditional miller’s knot. Although the monks no longer bake their own bread for sale, nearby Friendship Farms (established in 1795) has filled the void, following the Saint Vincent recipes. Loaves of Monastery Bread are available at the mill’s general store. Visitors are also welcome in the museum’s Environmental Education Center. Here Saint Vincent students, with Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps, and AmeriCorps volunteers, monitor the watershed restoration efforts known as the Monastery Run Improvement Project.

Part of the region’s legacy can be found in what the mining industry left behind. For more than 75 years, the Westmoreland and Fayette Coal Company, Mount Pleasant Coke Company, Latrobe Coal Company, Mount Pleasant By-Product Coal Company, and the Benedictine Society worked the local mines. But as the plants shut down and the mines stood idle, contaminants — like alkaline and iron — began to seep into the groundwater. The Monastery Run Project was created in the early 1990s to find an effective way to deal with the ongoing challenge of abandoned mine drainage. The project consists of 20 acres of wetlands treatment facilities.

Saint Vincent College helps to prepare its 1,200-plus students to deal with the challenges of life after college. The school offers a four-year, co-ed, liberal arts education, while the Saint Vincent Basilica provides spiritual guidance. Construction of the Romanesque church was started in 1892 and completed 13 years later. The Benedictine monks gather there twice a day to pray.

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