It’s All Grist to the Mill

sliced bread

from Jesse Green’s memoir:

Early in the spring of 1830 development of the water power was commenced by using the stumps from the timber from which the mill was being constructed. Economy was sought to a greater extent than it is at the present time. The saw mill was built with sufficient room to put a pair of stones in one end of it to do our grinding until a better mill could be erected, having brought with us the necessary mill irons, black-smith tools etc. [This mill was called the Old Pioneer.]

Our second flouring mill was built in 1831. Having plenty of lumber at this time, a good frame building was erected but before we had got fully acquainted with the pranks of old “Fox”, we found that we had encroached too closely on her banks, and by way of admonition a gorge of ice shoved the mill back a little, sufficient for a warning, the damage not being so great but that it was soon repaired so as to do our grinding until a third mill could be built.

The third mill was built in 1834 of much greater dimensions containing five pairs of “flint ridge burrs” gotten in Ohio together with the old Pioneer [stones], which were used for grinding corn and buck-wheat. This mill did a very extensive business in the manufacture of flour which found a ready market in St. Louis at that time, and a little later Chicago became our market. I find an old receipt reading as follows.

“Dayton, June 10th, 1843”
Received of John Green nine barrels of flour in good condition, which I agree to deliver in like condition to  J. V. Farwell in Chicago without delay.
Signed Gersham Burr.

This mill did all the grinding for the surrounding country for a radius of eighty and in some cases, one hundred miles. I distinctly remember grinding a grist of white winter wheat for “Old Davy Letts” as he was familiarly called, that made him forty pounds to the bushel of the best flour I ever made, this after tolling it, and I think better flour than we get today with all of our boasted improvements in milling. I attended mill for five or six years, and learned the impossibility of making number one flour out of inferior wheat, and I do not think it can be done under present processes. Among my first mill customers after I commenced tending mill, were our Indian friends. In grinding their small grists of from one peck to two bushels of wheat to each family, which is what they had gleaned from wheat fields, after the harvesters had passed over the ground, and it was always a question in our minds whether those having the larger grists, might not have encroached upon some of the sheaves or shocks in passing them. I had thirty different families to grind for at one time, which I did free, until I came to one of those two bushel grist, when I attempted to toll it, (which would be one peck for toll) it seemed to them too much like discrimination, as I had been grinding all of those smaller grists free, so I put the toll back and ground for all free.

Such was the rush to our mill, that frequently there would be too many to be accommodated at my father’s home, and they were obliged to camp out, about the mill, sometimes for near a week, awaiting their turn for grinding and we were unable to store their grain in the mill, until near their turn for grinding. The mill ran day and night to its full capacity (of six pairs of stones.) Soon after this mill was built, the Rock river country commenced settlement, and they had to depend upon our mill for their flour, and would come with ox teams (four pairs) and take two tons to the load, I frequently loaded up one of these teams before breakfast, and probably by noon would have the train all loaded up. They would come with little bags of silver (their only currency then) and I remember at one time, I had a little trunk nearly filled with it.

The demand for flour was so great that it necessarily annoyed those waiting so long to have their grists ground, to see several of those large teams come in the evening, and start off the next day with their loads. But we reserved the right and satisfied them, that we should be entitled to the use of one pair of burhs out of the six, to do our own grinding for those not having wheat of their own, and to keep the toll wheat out of the way which would require the use of one pair, three fourths of the time to do it, and this pair was kept running constantly on what was termed merchant work, or flour for sale.

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