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Feature on grain mills. TOPIC: AGRICULTURE & INDUSTRY
Written by Jim Sayre in April, 1999


Most communities had a mill. Kirkwood’s once fed General Harrison’s soldiers on the march. "Corn Cracker" built in Plattsville. Canal, then railroads, encouraged growth of the industry. Several local brands of flour were produced in Shelby County, Ohio.

Grain elevators and mills were a common rural industry, especially in Botkins, Anna, Jackson Center, Maplewood, Hardin Station, Pemberton, and Russia, all with direct access to steam railroads. Allinger’s Mill, in Port Jefferson, had no railroad, but did have direct access to the Sidney Feeder canal.

Sidney, triply blessed with feeder canal access to the Miami & Erie Canal and two railroads to foster grain shipments, hosted a thriving milling and grain shipping industry. An artifact of that industry is the Ginn Grain Company at North Street and West Avenue.

Even before large elevators, the countryside was dotted with mills to produce flour for local use. Jackson Center’s first mill, for example, was built in 1839 by Daniel Davis, and "was a horse mill, there being little or no access to water power in this part of the county." In the area later platted as Pontiac, now Kirkwood, William Berry built a flour mill in 1812. He reportedly ground meal for Harrison’s soldiers on the march to the northwest. Lockington’s first flouring mill was erected in 1830. John Medaris erected a mill --called a "corn cracker"-- near Plattsville around 1824 (Memoirs of the Miami Valley, Vol. I, Robert O. Law Co., 1919).

Whiskey production, reducing a bulky corn crop to a profitable, compact item, was popular at several milling enterprises. The old Maxwell mill on upper Mosquito Creek "maintained...a small distillery—or old-fashioned copper still—which produced a moderate amount of whiskey" (Memoirs).

Villages Benefited From Railroads
The D.T. & I. railroad, constructed in 1892, spurred growth in the small towns along its route, helping them become centers for grain shipping. Jackson Center’s Briggs elevator shipped from 150,000 to 200,000 bushels of grain each year, including corn, oats, wheat, and rye early in this century. Buckland Milling company rivaled the Briggs plant.

Construction of Maplewood’s two grain warehouses -- Stephenson’s (built in 1892) and The Farmers’ Grain Company (built by William Baker in 1894) -- meshed with the rail construction. "When the D.T. & I. railroad came down from the north, a new lease of life came to the neighborhood, and the village as it now stands has been built almost wholly since 1892..." (Memoirs).

Final section of the D.T.& I. Bridge over the Great Miami River near Quincy is lifted into place in 1892. This railway was a business boon to Jackson Center and Maplewood, but hurt Port Jefferson. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Davis, Franklin Township).

dtandibridgenearquincy.gif (79226 bytes)

A boon to the towns hosting it, the D.T.& I. spelled disaster to the by-passed Port Jefferson which once enjoyed an active grain and milling industry supported by its position on the canal. Port had attracted much of the grain from the farming districts to the north and east. "Then the D.T.&I. railroad stole down on the eastern plain and seized all that was left of Port Jefferson’s hopes, emptying its shops and leaving its once busy street a prey to decadence" (Memoirs).

The Bellefontaine & Indiana railway (later the "Big Four"), built in 1852, put Pemberton on the map: "...The looming presence of two big grain elevators at the side of the steel artery of traffic answers the question of what drew population to this spot." (Memoirs). The two major grain elevators in Pemberton early in this century shipped about a quarter million bushels of oats, corn, and wheat. One of them, the Shanely elevator built in about 1903, was owned by L.G. Shanely and E.E. Harbour, a partnership which dissolved when Harbour sold out to Shanely (Hitchcock’s History of Shelby County, 1913).

On the other side of Sidney, the Big Four railway facilitated large grain and livestock shipments from the Hardin Grain company, just a mile south of town, the Snow & Ginn elevator in Dawson, the Farmers’ Elevator near Houston, and the Groff & Simon elevator in Russia. The Houston elevator, like others, supplied all sorts of goods for the farmers, including coal, fencing, tiling, self-feeders, and seeds (Memoirs).

The north-south running Dayton & Michigan Railroad, later the B.&O. was the rail outlet for oats, corn, and wheat for the Sheets Grain Company and the Botkins Grain Company in Botkins: At the Botkins Grain company elevator and mill, about 100,000 bushels of oats are handled annually, and 35,000 bushels of wheat. The mill produces daily twenty-five barrels of "Kitchen Queen" flour, and all varieties of feed and farmers’ supplies and implements are handled, including seeds, coal, slat, fence posts, feeds, and tankage (Memoirs).

On down the line, the Toland elevator and the Anna Farmers’ Exchange elevator qualified Anna as "a 125-car town, referring to the amount of annual shipments. Swanders, two miles south of Anna, also became an important grain shipping station, still operating today" (Memoirs).

Kirkwood, south of Sidney on the B.&O. and site of the pre-1812 flouring mill when the town was named Pontiac, hosted another important grain shipping elevator, owned at various times by G.W. Holley, D. K. Gillespie who began buying grain in 1864, and Adlard & Persinger of Sidney (Memoirs). Gillespie also built a large elevator in Lockington, later owned by C.N. Adlard.

Though not on a rail line, Kettlersville nonetheless had success with a large grain storage warehouse... "built there for the convenience of farmers who cannot reach the railroads" (Memoirs). But, the lack of transportation spelled doom for the grist mill of Goins and Spray in Rumley, just northwest of Anna. "The oncoming railroads took routes farther to the east, and villages inevitably follow the railroads" (Memoirs).

Though Ft. Loramie had no direct access to a large shipping rail company, its steam flouring mill, "the largest mill in Shelby County...specialty is the Daisy O.K. flour," found its market via trucks and the Western Ohio Electric, "a spur of which is Fort Loramie’s only connection with a steam railroad" (Memoirs). Fort Loramie was also home to the large Sherman Grain Company which also once used the Western Ohio track to handle 150,000 bushels of oats, 12,000 bushels of corn, 42,000 bushels of wheat, and 100 carloads of coal each year. Another brand named flour, "Gold Coin," was produced by Pasco’s flouring mill.

The mill stones long used by the mills to grind wheat and other grains began to give way to modernization by the 1880’s, according to the Shelby County Democrat. The new process consisted of "mashing the grain between rollers revolving at different rates of speed, which makes better flour" (March 3, 1882). The Sidney Grain Elevator, erected in Sidney in 1849 and converted to a steam flouring mill in 1853, produced flour with "six run of stones," according to Sutton’s History of Shelby County, Ohio, 1883.

Sidney Hosted Several Mills

The Sidney area was once home to a number of mills, including the Maxwell flouring mills east of town, Cummins & Mathers in Dingmansburg just south of the Big Four tracks (before the tracks were moved), an old grist mill owned by Hardesty Walker, and the Lamb and Zinn grain warehouse and elevator at the intersection of Court Street and West Avenue (Memoirs).

The Sidney Feeder canal furnished an outlet for the Allinger mill in Port Jefferson
(illustration from Sutton’s History of Shelby County, Ohio, 1883)

portjeffersonmilllinedrawing.gif (72391 bytes)

The Maxwells built two mills before acquiring flouring mills near Sidney. One was on their farm on the upper reaches of Mosquito Creek east of Sidney. This mill also maintained a small distillery for whiskey production. "The second mill...was located about two miles east of Sidney, where a dam was erected...Here, distilling was done on a more extensive scale than on the farm, the mill itself, erected primarily for the purpose of flouring, being larger" (Memoirs).

A third mill closer to Sidney, originally built by John W. Carey, was later acquired by the Maxwells. Production here was limited to flour milling. B.W. Maxwell also acquired other mills, including another outfitted by Carey just east of Miami Avenue and south of the canal, as well as the Cummins & Mathers grain mill in Dingmansburg. The mills east of the river were powered by the Tawawa weir. Present residents of Sidney may recognize the location of the water power source as described in Memoirs: The dam and spillway two miles up the creek, and the picturesque race, are surviving features...and at the point where the railroad (old Big Four rail bed) embankment forms an incidental dam, the back water of the race has created a lakelet popularly called ‘Tawawa.’

The Hardesty Walker mill was built before 1840 along the Miami River opposite the present location of Graceland Cemetery. "The current of the river is swift at this point, and the now ruined dam below the bridge was constructed by Walker to turn this power into the race which led past the foot of the mill bank" (Memoirs). A later owner of the mill brought suit against the city for contaminating the mill’s water supply when Sidney voided its first city sewer into the river above the dam. The city settled out of court by purchasing the entire river bank south of the bridge to below the mill for a park.

Allinger Family Prominent in Milling Industry
The Lamb and Zinn facility, erected in 1851, passed through several ownerships and names, including "The Sidney Steam Elevator," until 1907 when it was incorporated as the Miami Valley Grain Company.

eeharbourandsonpembertonohio.gif (67859 bytes)

Officers were E.T. Custenborder, W.H. Persinger, J.W. Allinger, and George Allinger. "The Allingers are a family well known in the annals of the county as prominent in the grain and milling line, at Port Jefferson, as well as at Quincy...where Ben Allinger of the Quincy mill is a brother" (Memoirs).

The Allingers’ father was at one time in charge of the old Maxwell Mill. In the 1920’s, George Allinger recalled that..."Farmers at a distance would spend a whole day coming to mill and at the old Maxwell mill east of Sidney quarters were provided so the customers could put up their teams and had rooms provided in which they could cook their meals and stay over night if necessary until they secured their grist" (Sidney Daily News, Aug. 1927). The newspaper said "the name Allinger was synonymous with good flour."

Emory C. Nutt in 1896 built another Sidney grain facility, once known as the Jones Grain Company and later as the Sidney Grain Company. The building operates today as the Ginn Grain Company at 132 W. North Street, the only such structure surviving in downtown Sidney. Nutt should not be confused with Edmund E. Nutt, the Union officer hero of the Civil War who also engaged in Sidney’s grain business as the owner of the Stone Bridge Warehouse, later Sidney Grain and Milling Company.

The Sidney Grain and Milling Company, later the Farmers Grain and Milling Co., was a major grain handling establishment in Sidney and perhaps the oldest milling business there. The company proudly advertised its "Triumph" flour made from Shelby County wheat, "which is widely and favorably known and sold in northern and western Ohio, being sold by nearly every grocer and flour man in this territory" (Industrial & Commercial Sidney, Ohio, 1914).

warehousesteamelevatorandfeedmilleenuttbros.gif (82846 bytes)

Warehouse Steam Elevator and Feed Mill, E.E. Nutt & Bro., Sidney, Ohio

The "Stone Bridge Warehouse," later acquired by Farmers Grain and Milling. The new Sidney Fire Department occupies this approximate site. Illustration from the New Historical Atlas of Shelby County, Ohio, Page & Smith, 1875.

The story of Sidney Grain and Milling was chronicled in a "civic pride" booklet published in 1910 by the Amos printing company: Sixty years have witnessed great changes in Sidney and no spot more than Poplar street at the old stone bridge. There for 50 years stood the old stone bridge warehouse. Company after company owned and occupied it and grand fathers and fathers of the present farmers delivered their grain.

Stood at Current Fire Department Site

The Sidney Grain and Milling enterprise began in 1858 as the Stone Bridge Warehouse, but the site was in the grain business long before that. Memoirs notes that: "The site, on the west bank of the feeder canal, on the north side of Poplar street, was first selected for a warehouse by Frazier & Frankeburger, in the 1830’s." The warehouse, once destroyed by fire and then rebuilt, passed though several ownerships, including the Nutt Brothers, the Griffis family, and later Capt. E.E. Nutt, the Civil War veteran.

The building at one point had a capacity of about 50,000 bushels, with annual shipments of 150,000 bushels (Memoirs). "This showing assumes extra proportions when it is remembered there are thirteen other grain-dealing establishments within the county outside of Sidney," wrote Sutton in 1883. This huge total of more than 700,000 bushels of county-wide storage capacity in 1883 pales in comparison with the capacity of just one plant in 1999. Sidney’s modern Cargill soybean processing facility alone has a storage limit of 3.2 million bushels.

Fred Russell, John Blake, and Frank Sayre purchased Sidney Grain and Milling in about 1912 upon the death of Capt. Nutt. They renamed it Farmers Grain and Milling. The company maintained the manufacture of the "Triumph" brand of flour, and also handled grain, seed, salt, coal, cement, plaster, hay, tile and straw (Hitchcock’s History, p. 831).

There were no bulk deliveries of grain to the elevators in those days. "Dad would load the back seat of our Overland, I think it was a 1912 model, with large cotton grain sacks. These held about 2 1/2 bushels. He would take them out to the farm where they were going to be threshing the next day," recalls Frank Sayre’s son Russell. "The farmers brought the filled grain sacks to the mill in horse-drawn wagons."

Sidney Grain and Milling was modern for its time and boasted a quality product: Only the best wheat that our Shelby County farmers raise is used. The present owner is the Sidney Grain and Milling Company, incorporated to give it permanency, as men may come and men may go, but an incorporation like the river may go on forever (1910 Amos Press booklet).

Short-Lived Forever

The mill and its flour did not "like the river go on forever," as the 1910 civic booklet claimed it might. The local identity for Shelby County wheat in the form of "Triumph" flour was lost as the modern successors to the old mills took over. The current generation of grain handlers are the huge, multinational processors of a wide variety of food and industrial products. Two such corporations operate in Shelby County: Cargill (3.2-million bushel capacity) and Archer-Daniels-Midland (1.3-million bushel capacity).

Mills Part of Local Literature

Ohio’s Sesquicentennial poet Maude Carey, of Sidney, recognized mills in her epic poem of Shelby County’s history. Of Port Jefferson and the canal, she wrote:

"Here’s Allingers who kept the mill
Where people came for miles around
With wheat and corn to get it ground
For every wife must bake her bread--
It was a duty when she wed.
Now near the mill across the pond
Honnell’s warehouse could be found.
They bought the grain and stored it well
Until the boat came and they could sell."

From History in Rhyme, 1803-1953,
by Mrs. Maude A. Carey, 1953


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