by Nicole Greco
The Ralston Cider Mill on Mendham Road is no ordinary grist mill and it might be the most delicious taste of history in the state.
When it was built in 1848 by John Ralston Nesbitt, the water-powered, three story mill churned out flour like the rest of its architectural contemporaries. But it wasn’t until a few years after Nesbitt’s death in 1904 when the mill came to life as we know it today.
“In 1910 Thomas Laughlin moved his distillery to the mill,” said Ralston Cider Mill preservation committee Chair Ray Nadaskay. “It was the Tiger Apple Jack Distillery for apple jack and brandy; there used to be seven distilleries in Mendham.” During prohibition, some cider presses were converted to stills. However, when prohibition ended in 1933, there was no longer a need for these hidden operations and many distilleries shut down and were dismantled or left to decay over time.
The Ralston Cider Mill was preserved and restored over three years and re-opened as a museum in 2008. It’s the only one of its kind.
“We educate about the prohibition years, and when people have looked at prohibition in the past, like in the movies, there has been a focus on gangsters and that side of it,” said Nadaskay. “We educate people about how prohibition impacted so many social issues from taxation to women’s issues and the right to vote.”
The Mill welcomes visitors from across the region for one month each spring and then re-opens each September and October for weekly cider pressings, on the same equipment and using the same technique as they did in the early days.
While Morris County played an important role in the Revolutionary era, George Washington spent considerable time in Morristown. Apples have their roots in American history as well. Hard cider was “a stable of the settlers,” said Nadaskay. “John Adams was known to start his morning with a tankard of hard cider.”
Nadaskay says the living history tour is popular with kids and adults, not in small part to the weekly pressing of apples and the fresh cider tasting. It’s a taste of history that resonates with visitors young and old.