The Spokane Flour Mill, 1900


The beginning of Spokane clustered at the south side of the Spokane River. The first industries were sawmill and flourmills taking advantage of the water power. There were 4 big city mills in Spokane in 1889. They were: Echo Mill, C & C Mill, Spokane Flour Mill, and the Centennial Mills. By the time Spokane was settled the flourmills were being revised from grist mills (with two large stones) to roller mills. So Spokane’s mills were built as roller mills.

Flour Mill front
L87-1.20459-41 - Spokane Flour Mill, West 621 Mallon

 

In 1890, construction for a new flour mill on the north side of the river by Northwest Power and Milling Company on land owned by Spokane’s first millionaire, E.J. Brickell, was begun. The new flour Mill was needed because the Great Fire of 1889 burned down the other mills. The Great Fire happened on August 4, 1889.

Simon Oppenheimer, principal organizer of Northwest Power and Milling Company went to Amsterdam in 1895 to get funding from a dutch mortgage company for a competitor electric company and a flour mill. However by 1896, the effects of the worldwide depression of 1893 bankrupt his company, and he walked away from it. Oppenheimer fled to South America. Washington Water Powered sued over the holdings and water rights on the Spokane River for 5 years. The Flour Mill did not come into operation, however, until 1900 because the property became mired in a complex international lawsuit that was one of the most explosive and long-fought battles in the city's legal history. The City finally opened the Flour Mill in 1900.

 

flour mill back
L87-1.20460-41 - Spokane Four Mill, West 621 Mallon

Washington Water Power purchased the holdings for $300,000. This was an outstanding price, because it was valued at 3 million (3,000,000) dollars. The Mill building was 4-7 stories high – 4 stories on the front side, and 7 stories on the river side – with a corbel gambrel roof. The Flour Mill would get boxcars filled with wheat. Each car would have 500-600 bags of wheat. Each bag would weigh around 140 lbs. When these boxcars came, two men had to unload them. They would unload the boxcars in 2 hours.

To operate the mill, you needed power. Since there was no electricity, they used a water wheel in the river to power the rollers Roller mills used a series of different sized rollers to break up the grain kernels and grind them to flour. Rather than gears and stones, roller mills used smaller gears and belt pulley drives. The roller mills could grind more grain faster and were quieter. Roller mills were generally larger mills and signaled the decline of small grist mills.

After 80 years of operation, the Flour Mill was closed in the early 1970’s. The Flour Mill delivered flour all over the world. After WWII, the market for Pacific Northwest flour was shrinking in a tighter market. The final problem was when the Santa Fe Railroad offered lower rates for the Kansas Mills shipping to CA, and the Flour Mill just couldn’t compete with the rates. The Flour Mill got most of its wheat from Montana, North Idaho, and Eastern Washington.

After the Flour Mill closed in 1970, the building was restored and turned into a shopping and office building in 1973, in time for Spokane Expo 74. The restoration cost 2 million dollars. At this time there were only two operating flour mills left in Washington, two in Oregon, and one in Idaho. The two in Washington are both Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) owned, one in Spokane, on Trent Avenue, and one in Cheney.

 

Bibliography:

http://flourmillspokane.com/OurHistory.html
Norman Reed. Columbia magazine, Vol. 22 No. 4 (Winter 2008-2009)  

http://www.mark-heringer.com/2008/11/spokane-flour-mill.htmlhttp://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8640
http://nwda-db.orbiscascade.org/findaid/ark:/80444/xv36761

http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/jonathan-edwards/an-illustrated-history-of-spokane-county-state-of-washington-awd/page-19-an-illustrated-history-of-spokane-county-state-of-washington-awd.shtml, page 103.

Photos used with permission from Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/ Eastern Washington State Historical Society.

L87-1.20459-41 - Spokane Flour Mill, West 621 Mallon; 1941
L87-1.20460-41 - Spokane Four Mill, West 621 Mallon; 1941, Libby Studio

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Report created May, 2011.
Last Modified on January 3, 2012