The miller, Amos Grater, had displayed some effective histrionics to get his way in modernizing the Malvern grist mill.
The year was 1888 and B. Shriner, one in a long line of owners of the mill had resisted replacing the “old fashioned” buhr stones until Grater threatened to quit, so the current operator of the mill relented and put in the modern break rollers. They turned out to be much more efficient and better to regulate.
Water power had been used to drive the water wheels of mills since time immemorial. The large wheels in turn drove the heavy buhrs but now they had been changed to corrugated iron rollers that revolved at different rates up to the contact point that some engineer had discovered was the key to manipulating the grains into flour. The rollers crushed the corn or wheat or other grains smoother, more efficiently, grain so necessary to society.
By the 1880’s, however, those with an astute eye to the future were realizing that the end of the neighborhood grist mill was coming to a close. The huge corporate mills were producing flour by the tons, less expensive and of finer quality. So far many local mills still took care of the grains in their nearby fields.
Those neighborhood mills, grist and sawmills had been the hub of their locales where general stores, the blacksmith, the hardware grew with houses into villages, even towns and cities.
Naturally, the mills were on rushing rivers that drove the water wheels by dam, gates and mill race. The Malvern Mill was no exception. This one had been in operation since the 1850’s, probably begun in 1852 because notice gave that the dam was in place in ‘53. But there were other mills preceding it there on Rock Creek in Clyde Township in Whiteside County. That was a sawmill as was the usual order ... A sawmill to dimension timber into lumber, then a grist mill if a miller was nearby. Andrew Wing and Dr. H.H. Fowler, both of Fulton, brought industry to Clyde in 1838 to Section 13, then as much wilderness as agricultural. Wing at the time also platted a large town at the mill site which began as sawmill, later to add a grist mill.
Fulton City was in the throes of being initiated so perhaps gave inspiration to Wing to plat “Genesee City.” He touted it in all directions especially in the East where he hoped investors would bite on the streets of gold with which every town in the West was paved! Some of the prospects did come to Illinois where instead of jewel-studded street signs beside the golden highways all that could be seen were thousands of surveyor lot stakes waving in the wind but no Emerald City.
“Genesee City” failed before it got started. Wing’s saw mill/grist mill did gain some widely broadcast notoriety. It was noted for the slowness of its grinding, not a big seller even in the wilderness of the time.
Later Joe Brothwell put up a grist mill on the site of the earlier one there in Section 13. Henry Daniels is said to have done the construction in 1838.
At last coming back to the Malvern mill site on Rock Creek on the Section 26 line, we meet up with William Hiddleson who put up the grist mill and began a long list of proprietors at that place near what was known as “Malvern” with a couple stores, the usual church, school and so forth but we do not learn anywhere in our limited reference file how it received its name. Nor that of “White Pigeon” another village nearby.
What set the Malvern mill apart was that it also had a carding mill attached. Carding machines to process sheep’s wool instead of working it up tediously by hand. They were not uncommon here in the Northwest. Others were available.
Hiddleson had claimed land in 1844 and had accumulated enough wherewithal to construct the mill. The mill was sometimes called the Malvern Mill or by the name of the owner. By the late 1860’s it was “Hough’s Mill” because in township business the supervisors ordered a bridge be built at Hough’s Mill, $150, 1869.
A flood destroyed the mill in 1858 but it was rebuilt. After that Jacob Geyer became the owner and then his son, S.L. Geyer. B. Shriner, the next, he who put in the “break rollers.” It was mentioned then as the Malvern Roller Mill, doubtless, to advertise its modernity, their coercion through the auspices of Mr. Grater (1888)!
By 1892 ownership passed to the Appel family who had its direction until 1985 although it didn’t serve as a mill all those ninety-plus years with the Appel’s!
George Appel ran the mill until his death in 1926, then his son, John took over till about 1942 when World War II created shortages. After that time until sold again in 1985, all of the equipment remained intact, a sentimental thought and deed. It could have served the neighborhood at any time.
The picture here was taken several years ago. By now only a small part remains but this pretty view gives you an idea of its siting. But time has taken its toll on the Appel Roller Mill, as it was known. In its last working years it did only custom grinding for local farmers. At one point the Malvern Mill sent out 49 pound bags of flour as far away as New York. And to England American grains differ from grains of the UK, they are “harder” and are an “imported prize” over there.
On the picture-taking tour with Shirley Farthing Prowant ‘way back when, she recalled going to the mill with her dad, Marshall Farthing, on a horse drawn wagon full of oats to be ground into oatmeal. No, it was NOT in “ancient times” but it was in the last century! Thank you, Shirley.
Besides oats to process, there was a variety of several local tasks such as grinding corn for meal, white and whole wheat flour, bran, rye and buckwheat flours. It is a time completely gone before, as is the job of one Chester Millard (b. 1818) whose biography stated that he worked at nine local mills during his forty years as a miller ... A job obsolete. That’s history. That’s life.
The Little Rock Mill was put up across the way by Joseph Milnes in 1840. He, apparently, was of an “adventurous spirit” because he also put in an “oil mill” to process castor bean for pharmaceuticals. A frost killed the plants before they could be harvested. Perhaps a better solution than they had over in Lee County, Palmyra, where having no idea how to harvest the castor plant (they had to cut the tall plants by hand). With an attractive castor bean tempting the cutter, a bean would be now and again popped into the mouth. Soon the pickers could be seen running for the high weeds on the outskirts of the garden where their bowels received a good cleaning, the purpose, after all of castor oil! “Flax fever” also struck but wasn’t successful either.
Mills were necessarily several stories high, sometimes even three to six levels but the Malvern, like others of its kind, was about two and a half stories high. Commercial/corporate mills were especially tall. That was because each step in the process was done on a separate floor, grinding, sifting (called bolting) and purifying. Each machine in the process is grouped together, if possible, because the grain in its grinding is moved to the lower level by gravity, more efficient and economical.
There’s more to “mills” than meets the eye. They were hubs of their neighborhoods. Whiteside County had its share but none now remain except the picturesque stone “Ammon Mill” at the edge of Morrison on Rock Creek. It’s a sight to enjoy. Thanks to all those who have kept it in repair all these years.
The italicized information that follows was discovered in reference material. PDQ Me is moving around(!), not filing as it should be. This piece was a couple pages written by Sarah Thorndike but when and where published is not marked. Thanks for such a newsy article ...
In part: “The Malvern Mill faces south. The creek and dam are on the north side of the structure. The rectangular building has a stone foundation and is two and a half stories high, studded walls and a gable roof. There are two additions, one through which you enter was built in 1895 to house a scale. The other was built in 1920 and held a McCormick-Deering engine to provide additional power for the mill. The main power to run the mill came from the adjacent creek. Under the large wooden platform along the west wall are two turbine water wheels. Water rushed under the mill turning the wheels when the sluice gates were open. Several trap doors in the floor gave access to the water wheels allowing the miller to check on the turbines or go down into the space for cleaning or repair of the wheels or sluice. Not only was this a wet, dirty job but it was potentially very dangerous. The current was strong enough to carry a man away if the gates would open for any reason while he was down there. There was a limit to the amount of power available to run the mill. When the mill was running at full power it would lower the level of the creek. There is a Western Electric Power Station in the mill run by water power, generating direct current to the mill and to storage batteries under the Appel house. John Appel recharged the batteries at night because he didn’t want to use water power during the day when he might have to grind grain. Mrs. Appel got up at 3:00 A.M. to do the family laundry so she wouldn’t have to use power that might be needed during the day at the mill. Since he had the generator, John Appel did not want to join the Rural Electric Agency (REA) while neighboring farmers did. REA said it was not feasible economically for it to run lines into the area without the mill. The farmers boycotted the mill in 1936 until Appel agreed to sign up with the REA.”