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Demolished mill's history is well documented

Two earlier structures burned; safe blowers ignited a 1901 fire

By Fred Steiner

A piece of Bluffton history disappeared this week with the demolition of the former Bluffton Farmers’ Grain mill.

The mill was among one of the longest continually operated businesses here. Joseph Deford, Shannon founder, operated a lime kiln and a grist mill in the 1830s. At the same time the Siddall family started a saw mill.

Both those businesses were operated thanks to the flowing water power of Riley Creek.

Here’s a history of the Bluffton Farmers Grain mill, roughly connected to that 1830s Deford enterprise. This history’s focus covers the business from 1886 until a 1934 fire.

Grist mill
The Bluffton grist mill, one of the successors of Deford’s grist mill, was purchased by Siddall and Son, and later purchased by the Steiner Brothers in 1870.

In 1872 William B. Richards purchased the buildings and equipment and introduced new machinery. In 1885 the machinery was valued at $6,000, and the capacity was 50 barrels of flour a day. Three men were employed at the mill.

The foundation of the milling industry which came be located on Cherry Street at the railroad was known as the Bluffton Milling Co.  The three-story structure was built in 1886 by Julian Doriot. It included several additions made later and included  what was then known as the first roller process mill in Bluffton.

Doriot operate this mill until 1900. At that time he sold the mill to a stock company formed by J. B. Baer, consisting Baer, Jacob Lugibihl, Noah Moser, S.S. Diller, Noah Diller and S.S. Bixel, who after conducting the mill for about a year had it thoroughly overhauled and equipped with new milling machinery.

Unfortunately the year after all the upgrades were made same a fire completely destroyed the building. However, the owners constructed a new mill and added an elevator on the same property.

That building, a frame and iron clad structure, painted to represent brick, measured about 45 by 85 feet in dimensions, and stood three stories high.

The equipment included a 65-horse power Corliss steam engine, and at the time, the latest and most highly improved milling machinery for the production of a flour, graham, meal, chop and mill feed of all kinds.

The company’s specialty was flour and mill feed. They milled four different varieties of flour Banner Flour, Golden Sheaf, Sweet Home and Karkove. The principal brand of flour was called “Sweet Home.”

The company also sold wheat, corn, oats and seeds of all kinds, and barrel and rock salt and hard and soft coal.

Switches connect the mill with Bluffton’s two existing railroads at the time making excellent facilities for the reception and shipment of grain and other commodities.

Bluffton milling fire 1901
The greatest disaster in Bluffton until that time occurred on Oct. 14, 1901. Shortly after midnight the Bluffton Milling Co. building was unintentionally caught on fire by a gang of safe blowers who had dynamited the safe in the office of the building.

The first person at the scene was Haynes Greer, night operator at the Lake Erie and Western Railroad depot, which was nearby.

Greer noticed the mill was on fire, and as he turned away to sound the alarm, the safe blowers, who were still in the building, fired several shots at him as they made their escape.

When the fire department arrived, the entire mill was in flames and beyond saving. Dragged from the ruins, the safe was found and the entire front door blown off, but the inner vault had not been opened. The safe blowers were never apprehended.

The loss to the company was approximately $25,000, including contents. Insurance coverage was about $10,000.

Second mill fire
In June 1934 the mill experienced its second fire, with a blaze that leveled the entire building.

Spontaneous combustion or flying sparks from a passing steam locomotive caused the blaze that resulted in more than $40,000 and threatened surrounding structures for about four hours.

The fire was discovered about 11 a.m. by employees, and spread rapidly. Fanned by a stiff breeze, there was no hope in saving the structure. 

The rest of this story with additional photos is at