Polk County Historical Society

A grist mill (also: gristmill, corn mill or flour mill) grinds grain to flour. Early mill designs were usually water powered although, they could also be powered by the wind or by livestock.  In most watermills the early mills had horizontal paddle wheels attached to a shaft which was, in turn, attached to the center of the millstone.  The turning force produced by the water on the paddles was transferred directly to the runner stone, causing it to grind against a stationary stone of a similar size and shape.  This simple arrangement did not require gears, but had the disadvantage that the speed of rotation of the stone was dependent on the volume and flow of water available and was, therefore, only suitable for use in mountainous regions with fast-flowing streams.

The first grist mill to be built in Polk County was built in 1844 by James A. O’Neil, who came to Oregon in 1834 as a member of the Nathaniel J. Wythe party.  O’Neil’s Mill and a small store were located where Ellendale Creek (O’Neil Creek) flows into the Rickreall Creek.  The mill was purchased by James Nesmith and Henry Owens in 1849 and became known as Nesmith Mill.  It drew its business from the northern end of Yamhill County all the way to the south as far as Oregon was settled.  The mill was sold to John H. and William P. Lewis in the spring of 1856.  In November 1857, the Lewis Brothers ceased operation and sold the machinery and moved their store to Dallas.   

John Waymire built a grist mill at Dallas in 1856.  He dug a mill race that started at the west end of Washington Street, ran down Oak Street along Crider’s store, under the Guy’s Hardware building and to the old Foundry.  J. A. Dempsey is listed as having a flour mill in Dallas in 1866.

Other grist mills sprang up in Polk County: Buell, built by Elias Buell in 1849; Buena Vista, in 1851 by Mr. Vanderpool; Falls City, built by John Thorp and his son Theodore in 1852. The Falls City grist mill was moved to Rickreall, north of the fairgrounds in 1865 by Isaac Dempsey.  Adam Brown brought a grist mill from Oregon City to Bridgeport in 1854.  The mill race for this grist mill was dug by Chinese labor on the Carl Barnard property.

Henry Sloper and sons erected a grist mill at Independence in 1882. It was operated by steam power and then was run by water power.  A flood in 1890 destroyed the mill and George Skinner built a new flour mill.

Other grist mills operated in Polk County included a mill owned by a Mr. Shepard in Zena from 1880 to 1890, a mill in Lincoln built by Joshua Witten that was destroyed by fire in 1914, a mill in Perrydale built by D. L. Keyt in 1892, a mill on the Little Luckiamute in 1888 and a small grist mill at Salt Creek by Jesse Applegate.

This historical article is sponsored by Some Things Antiques. We believe our heritage is one of the most important things to Polk County.

Some Things is located at:

745 Main St., Dallas


Tue-Sat | 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Information in this article is from the Library of the Polk County Historical Society. 

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