The Monticello sawmill was completed in 1813. Its wheel, which at one point also ran a hominy beater and a hemp break, was powered by a narrow, 1/2-mile-long canal that drew from a local stream. In order to provide additional water to the wheel, Jefferson began construction on another small canal from the Rivanna River to the existing canal near the mill that was not completed until 1819. Jefferson's plans for the complex also included attaching a grist mill for the grinding of gypsum plaster for fertilizer, but it is uncertain whether this feature was ever built.
This mill complex was one of two that Jefferson had built along the Rivanna River. The other was located at the eastern end of the long canal on the Shadwell side of the river and featured two flour mills, one for commercial use and one for Jefferson's private use.