Mill History – A National Treasure

A Living Treasure stands rustically over Little Butte Creek, water pouring out of her antique timbered side as it has for far over a century. Her belts, pulleys and stones have not stopped turning and telling the story of the people who settled the Oregon territory. It is not only a story of history but of the destiny of those who would preserve the treasure from extinction and share it with future generations.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the world famous Butte Creek Mill “is the last water-powered grist mill, still commercially operating, this side of the Mississippi”

Snow Butte Mill (Butte Creek Mill) 1899Built on the banks of Little Butte Creek, under the name Snowy Butte Mill, local farmers would bring their wheat to the mill, their wagons lining the road for miles. The mill began operation in 1872. Farmers traveled from miles away, their wagons filled with grain lining the Old Military Road to Snowy Butte Creek Mill to have their flour ground. The miller was paid for his services by keeping every seventh bag of flour to sell in the Butte Creek general store. The Klamath Indians trekked 90 miles from Fort Klamath to trade berries and leather goods for flour.

The road in front of the mill is the old military road to Fort Klamath. Klamath Indians trekked 90 miles from Fort Klamath to trade berries and leather goods for flour.

The Butte Creek Mill is not a water wheel operated mill, rather the water in the millrace flows into a penstock twelve feet deep, where its weight provides pressure to activate the turbine that runs the wheels, belts and pulleys. This movement also turns the large millstones that grind the grain. To reach the grinding stones, the grain is fed into a hopper that in turn feeds it into the “eye” of the stones. In about three hours, it is ground to flour or cracked wheat depending on how the stones are set.

Grist Stone photo credit Dasha DolanOver 130 years ago, a ship sailed majestically around the horn to Crescent City carrying giant stones, quarried in Paris, France for the purpose of grinding stone into flour. The mill still uses the original French buhr stones that were quarried in France, near Paris, assembled into four-foot diameter stones in Moline, Illinois.  The stones were carried over the mountains by wagon to Snowy Butte Creek Mill.

A waterwheel did not power the mill but rather water flowed into a 12-foot deep penstock, its weight creating the pressure that activated turbines powering the belts and pulleys that would move the giant stones.

Hand Hewed Beams - Butte Creek MillThe mill has a basement where water power is harnessed and three floors where grain is received, stored and ground. Architecturally the building is interesting because the frame was raised first. The beams were morticed together and pinned with hard wooden pegs. The walls of whipsawed lumber were nailed to the frame with square nails. Foundation pillars are two feet square and were hewn with a broad ax.

Woodsy aromas of the old hand-sewn timbers and the sounds of whirring belts and clicking wheels, take visitors back to a time of simplicity. We invite you to take that journey with us as you explore the mysteries of a real working grist mill.