A Living Treasure stood rustically over Little Butte Creek, water pouring out of her antique timbered side as it had for far over a century. Her belts, pulleys, and stones had not stopped turning and telling the story of the people who settled the Oregon territory until Christmas morning 2015. The Mill is an iconic structure that was built in 1872 in Eagle Point, Oregon. It is on the National Register of Historic Places as the last water-powered grist mill, still commercially operating, west of the Mississippi. It was not only a place to buy delicious goods, but was also a hub for the community, as it hosted events and offered educational resources to people who came from all over the world to experience this piece of history. 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.
Over 140 years ago, a ship sailed majestically around the horn to Crescent City carrying giant stones, quarried in Paris, France for the purpose of grinding whole grains into flour. The Mill still uses the original French buhr stones, that were assembled into four-foot diameter stones in Moline, Illinois. The stones were carried over the mountains by wagon to the Snowy Butte Mill. The Butte Creek Mill was not a water wheel operated mill, rather the water in the millrace flowed into a twelve-foot-deep penstock, where its weight provided pressure to activate the turbine that runs the wheels, belts and pulleys. This movement also turned the large millstones that grind the grain. To reach the grinding stones, the grain was fed into a hopper that in turn fed it into the "eye" of the stones. In about three hours, it was ground to flour or cracked wheat depending on how the stones were set. The Mill has a basement where water power is harnessed and three floors where grain was received, stored and ground.
Architecturally the building was 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 were two feet square and were hewn with a broad ax. Built on the banks of Little Butte Creek, under the name Snowy Butte Mill, the Mill began operation in 1872. Farmers traveled from miles away with 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 on the old military road to trade berries and leather goods for flour. The woodsy aromas of the old hand-sewn timbers and the sounds of whirring belts and clicking wheels remained until the fire, and took visitors back to a time of simplicity.
That was until the tragic fire on Christmas morning in 2015 that consumed the "capital of Eagle Point," as locals fondly referred to the Mill. The Mill brought people from all over the world to Eagle Point. Around 4am, there was what was deemed as an accidental electrical fire, and our beloved Mill was burned to the ground. The mill stones were not harmed in the fire, and the basement is largely intact. The Butte Creek Mill Foundation was formed and became the owner of Butte Creek Mill. The Foundation is currently engaged in fundraising to reconstruct the Mill in a historically accurate manner. Learn how you can support the Rebuild the Mill efforts by clicking here. Since that tragic day, the community has rallied around the efforts to rebuild this iconic building and restore it to its rightful place in Southern Oregon’s rich history. The support, both locally and nationally, has allowed the restoration to progress, and with continued support we will be able to reach our goal of reopening the doors of Butte Creek Mill in early 2021.