History and tales about the Mills

The water mill or hydraulic mill is a system designed to use mechanical energy produced by the current of a watercourse, conducted to the wheel of the mill through appropriate ducting. Among the first documents concerning water mills and their operation are those of Vitruvius in the treatise De Architettura (25 BC). The use of water mills in Europe predates the use of windmills. Their development took place in parallel with the end of slavery from the ninth century: the use of hydraulic energy instead of animal or human energy allowed an increase in productivity unprecedented in antiquity. The water mill, as well as the windmill, was supplanted in the nineteenth century by the advent of the steam engine and, pursued, by the electric motor.


Water mills were used for multiple uses before the industrial era. Some of the most frequent uses were:

  • Grain milling, the oldest use
  • Operation of sawmills
  • To operate looms, in the textile industry
  • Metalworking, to operate millstones, forges and forging hammers
  • To operate hydraulic pumps
  • For the production of electricity, with the use of a generator


Water is diverted from a river and conducted to the turbine or water wheel through a channel or pipeline. The force of the movement of the water, combined with the effect of the blades of a wheel, determines the rotation of the axis that drives the other machinery of the mill. The passage of water is controlled by gates that allow maintenance and are a minimal measure of control from flooding. The mills, while maintaining common technological characteristics, were tools designed from time to time to the intended use functional to the tasks they had to perform and perfectly integrated with the environment took the driving force.  In mountainousness it exploited the water jump, therefore the impact force of a greater pressure but with less flow, favoring the thrust "for below" with small, very robust wheels and rudimentary technology. In the plains, not having adequate differences in height in the water jump, they always opted for the technology "for below", but given the large and constant amount of water available in the feed channel and the low pressure and speed, the wheel had to be very large and the technology very sophisticated, with very accurate blades, in order to capture the greatest possible thrust. Watermills can be divided into 3 categories:

  • Horizontal water wheel
  • On vertical axis
  • Vertical water wheel on horizontal axis
The oldest are the horizontal mills, in which the force of the water, hitting a paddle wheel placed horizontally, in line with the flow of the current, rotated the stone of the millstone that was connected directly to the axis of rotation through a gear. In most cases, however, the water wheel is placed vertically, with the axis of rotation horizontal, as in the mill of Bairo.

Il Mulino di Bairo

The history of the Bairo Mill begins at the same time as the opening of the Bealera Briccaca or more commonly known as the Caluso Canal, which took place in December 1559 after just 3 years of work. Work done on the initiative of Marshal Charles de Cossè de Brisach, commander of the French troops who occupied part of the Canavese in those years. The marshal obtained, in 1556, from Henry II of France, permission for the construction of a canal to conduct water from Spineto, a hamlet of Castellamonte, to his lands in Caluso. In this way, with the irrigation of the cultivated fields, he would have ensured water for his horses and above all he could have flooded, in the event of an enemy attack, the countryside south of Caluso, at that time crossed by large swampy areas due to the stagnation of the coli of the morainic hill. Obtained by Henry II, the faculty to derive from the Orco river 48 feet Liprandi (= 0.514 meters) of water and to cross the territories in his domain: Castellamonte, Bairo, Aglié then get to Caluso passing through the territories of San Giorgio, Montalenghe, Orio and Barone, then under the dominion of the Duke of Monferrato. The Vicenza architect Francesco Orologi was commissioned to carry out the project. The instrument of 20 May 1561, stipulated between the Community of Bairo and Marshal Cossè de Brisach (or Brissac) agreed that :

  • The Community of Bairo could build on the Bealera, in the locality of Braialasca, a building on three wheels from a mill and a hemp pest, practicing for the turn of the wheels of this mill a single jump;
  • That the same Community should recognize in perpetuity the use of water for such a building;
  • That bridges could be built for public and private use over the Bealera.

Following this agreement, the Community of Bairo could finally build its own mill and the revenues remained with the Bairese administration. The mill was rented annually to a private individual who, by contract, had to recognize the citizens of Bairo some facilities, in particular in the payment of the ground and on the days of grinding cereals. In 1776 the mill and the hemp plague were rented to Guglielmo Perono for 682 lire and 10 soldi. In 1780 it consisted of three millstone wheels and a fourth crush wheel for hemp. In 1820 the Municipality rented the mill to Giuseppe Scala di Agliè for 981 lire and for 6 years. In 1840 it consisted of two wheels for grinding meliga and rye, a wheel for wheat and one for crushing hemp.

Numerous tenants followed one another until 1853 when the mill was rented to Mr. Chiarovano who, due to debts incurred during his management, was forced to close it. The failure of the mill meant for the Municipality of Bairo the loss of the 1900 lire that were paid as rent. A public auction was held to find a new tenant of the mill. The auction (with the "rite of lit candles") awarded the mill, with adjoining hemp beater, to Mr. Domenico Felizzati of Castellamonte for 5 years, at the fee of 3400 Lire.

A quarrel in the mid-800s opposed the Community of Bairo to the Royal Heritage, that is the State Property, because of the Caluso Canal. With the act of 18 March 1760 the Marquis Carlo Francesco Valperga di Masino ceded the old Bealera to the Royal Heritage which, as owner, sued before the Royal Delegate Cav. Curti, in Castellamonte, the Community of Bairo. The deputy attorney general, lawyer Pullino, challenged the Municipality of Bairo, represented by the Secretary, Notary Pietro Giuseppe Succio, by the Mayor Giovanni Penoncello and the councilors Giacomo Trabucco and Gio Battista Pistono, the property of the Mill on the Canal. The lawyer Pullino recalled the obligations assumed in 1561 and that since 1760, with great carelessness, they had disregarded. After this quarrel the representatives of the Municipality of Bairo assumed responsibility for maintaining the Canal in order to maintain the Mill. From December 1780 the Municipality of Bairo was relieved of maintenance by paying an annual fee of 250 lire. All the illegal vents made by the Bairesi to irrigate their fields were also closed.

In 1859 the mill was rented to the Knight Enrico d'Emarese, the rent had been reduced to 2000 Lire by the Municipality because in those years other mills had sprung up in the district, effectively reducing the activity and therefore the income of the miller of Bairo. In the years 1876-77 the Municipality faced several lawsuits against the millers, including that against Giorgio Magario to cease the activity and compensate for the damage caused to the machinery of the mill and the building.  In 1928 the mill and the hemp beater were still working and were rented to Succio Caterina. On February 11, 1937, a "private licitation" competition was held, which assigned the pre-emption of purchase to Mr. Giachino Pietro, husband of Succio Caterina as holder of the "longest stick". On 06 April 1937 the Municipality of Bairo sold the mill to Mr. Giachino Pietro for an amount of 32,000 Lire.

From 1937 to 1947 Pietro Giachino and his son Domenico managed the Bairo Mill but, with the advent of the Second World War, the demand for grinding dropped significantly. The Giachinos then installed a sawmill plant for cutting logs and producing planks. All driven by the hydraulic force obtained from the wheel that still exists.

The Giachino were notoriously a family of millers, Marcello, Pietro's brother, had rented the mill adjacent to the Castle of Agliè, the other brother Camillo had rented the Mill of Grugliasco. In 1957, Domenico Giachino took over from his uncle the rent of the Grugliasco Mill and managed it together with his wife Margherita "Rita", the real conductor of the Mill. At the death of Pietro, which occurred in 1966, the Mill of Bairo then passed to Domenico's brother, Bruno who managed it until his death in 2006. The mill was inherited by Caterina Giachino in Pregno, daughter of Domenico who sold it to her sons, Walter and Flavio Pregno, the current owners. From 2008 to 2013 there was an impressive renovation with the creation of a new wing intended for receptive use, while the historic premises of the Mill were kept as such.

The Metric Stone

A few hundred meters from the Mill, always in the territory of Bairo, set among the stones that stem the Canal we find the "Metric Stone" for measuring the amount of water of the Brissac Canal. It is interesting to know that with the inauguration of the Canal was also born a new measure equal to 48 Liprandi feet (about 0.514 meters) which was divided into 12 ounces. This measure of water flow became adopted throughout Piedmont. After 1780 being used by Ing. Contini, director of the Regi Canali will be called Oncia Contini or Oncia di Caluso.

In 1885 the tenant was Domenico Zanotti di S. Giorgio, who first entered into dispute with the Municipality because he wanted to enter the management without paying any fee. The hemp beater was under the canopy, the millstone wheel consisted of nine oak legs. In 1888 Massimo Silva took over as tenant for an annual amount of 1350 Lire. In 1891-96 Giorgio Galetto was tenant for a rent of 1240 Lire. In 1905 the Municipality of Biro commissioned the Turin mechanic Cesare Bavero to modernize the works, a novelty above all was the installation of the current wheel and in 1908 it was rented for 9 years to Pietro Mazzola di Leinì for an amount of 787 lire a year.