Milton History

a pictorial history of Milton, PA

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Milton Tannery Survey 1879

This survey was drawn by a fire insurance company in November, 1879, just 6 months before the Great Fire. It was owned by William H. Reber, a tanner from Berks County. The chart to the right gives a lot of information about the business. You can see the site after the fire here.

Survey map courtesy of the Milton Historical Society

Tanning is a smelly process used to treat animal hides to form leather. It uses tannin, or tannic acid, a material made from hemlock tree bark, to condition the hides for use as leather. Prior to tanning the hides were soaked in a lime solution for several days. The lime solution removed the hair and epidermis. The hides were then soaked in vats of tannic acid, which gave them a deep reddish-brown color (hemlock) or yellowish color (oak). Waste materials, including hair, flesh, lime, and spent tannic acid were probably disposed in the adjacent mill race, which emptied into the river.

Buildings: The leach house was the place where tannin was extracted from bark for use in tanning. Processing time was two days using steam, or four without. The tanning building contained the tan vats, and rolling and drying equipment for the resulting leather. The beaming house was where the soaking, liming, and fleshing were done. The latter involved scraping over a beam with a dull knife.