You are here at the edge of the Sèvre Niortaise river, which has its source around 15 kilometres away in the town of Sepvret. What looks like a small river here is actually a coastal river that runs for more than 158 km before flowing directly into the ocean in the Bay of Aiguillon, north of La Rochelle. In Melle, the Sèvre Niortaise is still winding and not especially deep. It becomes navigable downstream of Niort, where it and its tributaries form the main artery of the Marais Poitevin, the second largest marshland in France.
The strength of this water was used in the Middle Ages to free up the human workforce and put to agricultural use. The Moulin l’Abbé mill bears witness to this history.
Created in the 11th century by monks from the Saint-Maixent abbey, it was mentioned in 1654 as a bark mill. This means that it was used to grind oak and sweet chestnut bark for use in tanning hides. It then became a wheat mill around 1700.
During the French Revolution, there were no less than 120 wheat mills in a league’s radius around La Mothe-Saint-Héray. These mills produced a very high-quality flour called “minot”. This was transported on the backs of mules to Niort, then on boats to La Rochelle in order to feed the French fleet.
Around 1920, the Moulin l’Abbé was transformed into a flourmill with the installation of a complex mechanised system that stored all the elements. The grain, taken through the stages by a system of bucket chains and pallet conveyors, was separated, the chaff and impurities were removed and it was then ground and sieved until it produced flours of different millings. The mechanised system is listed as a historical monument (Monument Historique) and is still fully functional.