Farmers relied on grist mills to turn the grain that they grew into flour and therefore a cash crop. They were important places where local people could not only transact business and barter, but socialize and find out news. Many became the center of communities that grew up around them.
The original stone grist mill that became known as Pennypacker Mills was built c. 1720 by Hans Jost Heijt (Hite) who also built the first section of the house. Hite moved to Virginia in 1730 selling the mill business to the Pawling family that owned many mills in the Philadelphia region. In 1747, Peter Pannebacker bought the grist mill, house and farm, and it was during his ownership that the property got its current name. Pannebacker’s Mills were noted on some of the earliest maps of the Philadelphia region as a destination at the end of Skippack Pike. The covered bridge across the Perkiomen Creek wasn’t built until 1833. When that burned in 1923, it was replaced with the current concrete bridge.
Peter Pannebacker sold off the mill business in 1762 to Joseph Pawling, retaining the house and farm. During the Revolutionary War, soldiers needed bread so the mills were important to the war effort, especially when soldiers encamped on the adjoining property before and after the Battle of Germantown in 1777.
The grist mill stayed in operation with various owners until 1898 when it burned, but was rebuilt. In 1923 it was converted to a restaurant known as Pennypacker’s Tea Room. Severe flooding did extensive damage in 1935 and the building was remodeled. From 1947 to 1973 it was known as the Old Mill Inn, then the Red Fox Inn until 1980 when it burned down. Only the foundation remains on the parcel purchased by Montgomery County in 1981, now a part of the Department of Assets & Infrastructure, Parks, Trails and Historic Sites.