Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Local History and 2nd Time to Thompsons Mill

"The Donation Land Claim: The passage of the law was largely due to the efforts of Samuel R. Thurston, the Oregon territorial delegate to Congress. The act, which became law on September 27, 1850, granted 320 acres (1.3 km2) of designated areas free of charge to every unmarried white male citizen eighteen or older–and 640 acres (2.6 km2) to every married couple–arriving in the Oregon Territory before December 1, 1850. In the case of a married couple, the husband and wife each owned half of the total grant in their own name. The law was one of the first that allowed married women in the United States to hold property under their own name. Half-blood Native Americans were also eligible for the grant. A provision in the law granted half the amount to those who arrived after the 1850 deadline but before 1854. Claimants were required to live on the land and cultivate it for four years to own it outright."

7, 437 people became land owners in the Oregon Territory through the Donation Land Claim Act defined above.

The passage of this act preceded the Homestead Act, meant to populate the great plains region.  The Homestead Act is colorfully depicted in old movies, when wagons and horseback riders, even people on foot, lined up to race across the plains to grab their pieces of land, to claim and occupy, for free! Nowadays people would call out those folks as leechers and free loaders. But not then. There was space then and not so many people.

My friend and I went out to Thompsons Mill two days ago. I'd been there before, but she didn't know it was there. So we went. Thompsons Mill is now an Oregon State historic site and preserves the old flour mill built by early valley settler William Finley, way back in 1856. He'd come to the valley with his wife, who was only 13 when they married, and coincidentally the age at which she gave birth to one of their four daughters. You can fill in the details. Not so much has changed.
A photo of the mill silos I took the first visit

Finley and his family settled near what is now Crawfordsville and tried to survive. He was considered a cripple, having broken both legs that then did not heal normally. He finally built, by borrowing and going into debt, a small mill on property near where he lived, using stones for buhrs milled from a Brownsville quarry. There were under 200 census registered males at that time living in the area now known as Linn County. People needed to eat and to eat grain, it needed milled, crushed so our stomachs could digest it.

The mill was popular, as were others that popped up in the valley. But Finley owed everyone after building his, and was in serious debt, so when the gold rush hit California, he packed and left for the gold mines. He made a mint in the gold mines and would sent dust home to his family and finally came home himself, well off.

He then built the Boston Mill, now known as Thompsons mill. He bought the land for $50 from someone named Elder, who had come to the valley to grab land after the Donation Land Act passed. Elder traveled with his wife and together they could claim, free, 640 acres, under the Act's provisions for a married couple. However, she died en route. It is said he carried her body with him, so he could still get the 640 acres, then buried her, on what would have been her share, then married again. He sold some of that land to William Finley.

Finley bought the water rights for $75 and built the mill and even laid out a town there, called Boston. Boston, Oregon. However, as luck would have it, the railroads came down the valley laying rail. Finley wanted the railroad to go through Boston, but the flooding problem there, made that unfeasible. Instead, the railroad laid rail through Shedd's Station, which became Shedd, and Boston residents relocated to Shedd.

Later on, when steel fabrication improved, the mostly wooden mill was judged unfit for producing human grade food and went to production of animal feed, and later, just electricity, from the three turbines in the mill's guts that power the entire plant. The Boston millrace was deflected off the Calapoia River, to produce a drop of 16 feet, enough to turn three huge turbines that powered everything inside through shafts and belts. The turbines did not spin on bearings, but rather on iron wood, a very dense wood that is also rare and expensive. It also self lubricates.
A millstone, from France
See those grooves in the stone, from the center out?  Those are created by hand, and furrow the milled grain out to the edges of the two stones.  The tool used to create the furrows looks like a very short handled hoe, of sorts and has a metal blade and the men who made those furrows rested the tool hand over their other arm to work, meticulously, so as not to harm the stone and often getting metal flecks, from the tool, embedded in their hands and wrists.  This is where the old saying came from "Show us your metal."  When someone wanted to be hired to furrow the millstones, the mill operator could discover how experienced they were by how much metal was embedded in the hopeful hires' wrists and hands.

Later stone was no longer used to grind grain, as flecks of it ended up in the flour, and would grind down people's teeth. New vertical roller milling machines became the rage. The grain dropped between two rollers and this method proved much faster and also safer for those eating the products milled.
The newer method of milling grain without big millstones

I love the mill for the McQuiver like innovations, the levers and pulleys and mechanical innovations, all thought up and built without today's machining capabilities. These innovations are so clever and made the mill run efficiently. I love the counter weight elevator that still can take people up a floor with ease. I love the tensioners that they built to release belts running off shafts from the turbines, if operators wanted one machine run off that shaft to stop but not others. I love the gear cogs made from wood and easily slipped out to replace, since the mill was far from steel fabrication plants.

So I enjoyed another trip to the mill, despite having visited just last summer.

If you live in this area, I highly recommend a visit, especially if you enjoy innovation. Go down 99E to Shedd and make a left onto Boston Mill Road.  It's not far from the freeway on the north side of the road.

This link provides interesting history of Finley and the mill.

Speaking of innovation, industrialization is taking more mid valley jobs. The Halsy paper mill, that creates a variety of paper products, is laying off quite a few workers in the next months. They plan to install equipment upgrades that will replace the need for many workers.

The story of our time. The overlooked and unstated cause of much unemployment and decrease in family wage jobs. Machines do it for us now.


  1. Thanks for the post. It shows that a person doesn't have to go a long way from home to find neat and interesting things.

  2. This is the sort of history I find fascinating.
    When I was at school history was largely taught as dates and battles. I was bored. If only it had been taught as 'how people lived'....

  3. EC, you are so right and it would make history so fascinating!

  4. Isn't the advertising on the silos just wonderful.

  5. It is wonderful and they found those, according to the ranger, when sand blasting the silos and then restored it. Inside now, when their little store is open, they sell tote bags and T shirts with the old flour bag advertisements on them.