Volume Four Number Eight
Grist Mills on the Calapooia River
Pacific NW 1840s-1900s
THE THOMPSON ERA
In 1866, William Simmons bought out Brandon and Crawford to become a partner of R.C. Finley. Simmons became miller and manager of the enterprise. From 1875 to 1887, Simmons worked the mill with his brothers Al and Ed who had bought Finley’s share of the mill. Then Simmons was again joined by Finley. This lasted until 1891 when Finley sold-out to Alice and Stan Noel who later that same year sold their holdings to Martin Thompson. This completed the 25-year era of the Simmons family at Boston Mills.
Thompson Becomes MillerMartin Thompson became manager and miller at Boston Mills in 1891. He then set about converting the machinery to roller milling, and renamed the operation Boston Roller Mills. Martin had a purchase contract with Simmons, who retired to Shedd. Final payment on the contract was made in 1897.
Martin was assisted in operation of the mill by his sons Otto and Leo. Another son, Henry worked as a teamster. John and Charley also worked at the mill while growing-up, but left when they reached the age of 21.
Boston Roller Mills Makes ElectricityMartin’s son John had an inventive streak. He connected a direct-current generator to the machinery to provide lights in the mill and the mill owner’s house. Later, John and Henry converted Thompson’s old grist mill site at Husum, Washington to provide electricity to the town of White Salmon. When Charley reached 21, he and his bride move to Husum to operate the plant. Martin built a new miller’s house in 1904. Martin Thompson died at a nursing home in Portland in 1910. Ownership Changes HandsAt Martin’s death, his son Ott took over management of the mill. Numerous changes were made by him to improve operation and the mill’s capacity. Machinery was constantly being updated. The first slip-form concrete storage tanks south of Portland were constructed at Thompson’s Flouring Mills. The wooden dam was replaced, as well as the forebay. Three Leffel turbines were installed. And, the appearance of the buildings took their present form under the guidance of Ott Thompson. WWI Boosts Milling BusinessAdvent of World War I saw the mill operating 24-hours a day. John McKercher was recruited to help at Thompson’s. A warehouse at Shedd was built and became a significant shipping and receiving point for grain, and later grass seed. Time Marches OnBy the start of WWII, flour milling was on the decline. Competition from big city mills, changes in customer preference for store baked bread, together with strict state sanitation requirements brought an end to production of flour.
Production of animal feed and seed cleaning took up the slack until the 1970s. Ott passed away, and his son Merle took over operations. By then the name had changed to Thompson’s Mills. Merle retired in 1974 ending the 83-year reign of the Thompsons at the mill.
Death of McKercher’s MillMay 1948 - The 95-year-old John McKercher Mill collapsed near the site of the first mill built by R.C. Finley. “The structure had apparently just become tired,” witnesses said, “for the walls caved in without visible cause, on a quiet, sunny afternoon, and crashed to the ground from under the roof, which was left sprawling over the debris.” A different witness claimed that a large wind happened just prior to the collapse, but the fact remains that the old McKercher Mill is gone and now a matter for the history books. Magnolia Mills Comes DownFebruary 24, 1959 - Workmen were busy today demolishing one of the oldest remnants of early Albany industry. Rapidly disappearing here is the old Albany Magnolia flour mill at First avenue and Calapooia street, built nearly 100 years ago by some of Albany’s first settlers. It was initially powered by water from the Calapooia River and later by water from the (Santiam) Albany canal, and was developed into a full-fledged flour mill. After 1910, and until a few years ago, it had been used by M. Senders & Co. as a grain warehouse. --Albany Democrat Herald
NEW LIFE FOR AN OLD MILL
The old Thompson’s Mills on the Calapooia River in the mid-Willamette Valley just east of Shedd is on its way to being reincarnated as the Boston Mill Museum and Interpretive Center, if the Boston Mill Society has its way.
Thompson’s Mills is the current name of old Boston Mills built on a now historic spot of land, part of the Americus Savage Donation Land Claim. Boston Mills was built while Oregon was still a territory, 1856-58. It was the third flour mill built by pioneer Richard Chism "Uncle Dick" Finley and his partners P.V. Crawford and Alex Brandon.
The site was chosen to intercept pack trains hauling flour to gold fields south of the Valley. Boston Mills was destroyed by fire in 1862 and immediately rebuilt. In 1892 it was converted to roller milling. During World War I it ran day and night to supply flour to the war effort. After that time, markets for flour from small rural mills gradually declined and finally ended during World War II. Feed milling took up the slack and continued until the middle 1970s. The mill currently does custom milling and generates electricity for sale to the local utility.
The mill is Oregon’s oldest flour mill operating continuously on water-power. The old town of Boston was located just west of the mill. The town reached its peak in 1870, just before the Oregon & California Railroad was pushed through about two miles to the west. The railroad put an end to Boston, but was the beginning of Shedd.
The Boston Mill Society grew from a group of citizens concerned that the historic Thompson’s Mills should not be lost to the ravages of time, but preserved in some way for community benefit. The owners were offering their properties for sale to Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation. ODPR staff performed a feasibility study of the mill site and surrounding district. The director presented results to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission, at which some citizens spoke to the commission in favor of purchase, preservation and conversion to a state park.
The park director, in a letter to the Commission summarized the results as: “The basic finding is that the site is an extremely significant and intact historic resource in a good location for interpretation of a number of historic themes, primarily an agricultural theme in the Central Willamette Valley. As with most new park projects, the issue is funding, not only for acquisition but for rehabilitation, ongoing maintenance and staffing.” In effect, a good idea, but no funds available.
Subsequent to this, the Boston Mill Society filed in 1994 Articles of Incorporation with the state, and in 1995 received IRS recognition as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Linn County, using grant money, commissioned a feasibility study to be performed by the Leland Consulting Group, and an appraisal to be performed by Powell, Goss & Associates.
The Boston Mill Society board voted to assume the task of raising funds to purchase and develop Thompson’s Mills as the Boston Mill Museum and Interpretive Center. The location permits up to 75 percent of Oregon’s population to visit the site on a day-trip, making it easy for families and school children to learn about early days of settlement, agriculture, pioneer family life and industry.
Costumed guides will serve as escorts and interpreters of this part of Oregon’s history. Museum staff will work with teachers to develop educational programs for their students. Some displays will be hands-on and interactive. An old stone gristmill will be installed and operated so visitors can see how it was done for so many years. Wagon rides, farm animals, gardens and other activities and seasonal events will be available. Some glimpses into possible futures of agriculture are planned.
The Boston Mill Society asks the citizens of Oregon to participate in this wonderful project for the benefit of us all, and particularly our children and grandchildren who will inherit this great land. This superb opportunity should not be lost.Boston Mill Society
All the stories, photographs and line art in this edition was provided by the Boston Mill Society (BMS). Our Front Page story (not on the web) tells more of the history of Finley's mills and was written by our editor using documentation also provided by the BMS. Our printed edition also carries a small glossary and complete references. Thompson Mills property is now owned by the State of Oregon Parks. None of this could have happened had it not been for the inspiration and perspiration of Martin Thompson and other members of the BMS. In our relationship with Boston Mill Society (BMS) we created and maintained their web site for a couple of years. In its old state you can still visit it as we have housed it on our web site. Click on the link above. This edition and the rest of our wheat series was sponsored by The Wheat Marketing Center. Throughout our wheat series we have used original artwork by our friend Chigusa Ohtsuka, a Japanese artist, to illustrate our wheat stories.
Bridget E. Smith, editor & publisher
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Published in Portland, Oregon