History of Mills in Leavenworth, Kansas
From: History of Leavenworth County, Kansas
BY: Jesse A. Hall and Leroy T. Hand
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka, Kansas 1921


THE first flour mill erected in the town was built in 1857 by Earle Si Bunbing, on the northwest corner of Main and Short streets. It was a brick structure two stories in height, 45x100 feet with additions. This was before the days of the roller mills. There were three or four sets of burrs in the mill with all the necessary machinery and bolts for making first class flour, which they did. Prior to that time all the flour used in the town and vicinity was brought here from Weston and Platte City, Mo., or shipped here from St. Louis by steamboat. Owing to the scarcity of wheat raised in this vicinity at that time and the large capital required to compete successfully with the mills in Missouri near here and also with the flour shipped in here from points below, the mill failed to prove a paying investment. The machinery was removed and the milling business abandoned by the promoters of the enterprise. The mill building was then occupied for a series of years by Woods & Abernathy as a furniture factory. This was probably the commencement or foundation of that immense business which has been so successfully developed, and is still carried on here, for the past thirty five years by that energetic and among the foremost of our enterprising and successful pioneer manufacturer's Col. J. L. Abernathy. Their business rapidly increasing, the firm was obliged to seek a new location w th more room to build and operate a larger plant, which they did on the northwest corner of Second and Seneca streets. The old mill building remained vacant for some years, until it was fitted up as a dwelling house and was occupied for a number of years as a "maison de joie." It again became vacant, and when the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Works, were located here, A. J. Tullock, Esq., the proprietor, occupied it as the office of his extensive works for some ten or fifteen years, till he removed his office to its present location in the Union passenger railroad depot, fronting on Main street, at the foot of Delaware street. The old mill building having passed through so many trials and tribulations and being occupied by such a diversity and somewhat mixed interests, has at last succumbed to the inevitable of all things earthly. It has, I learn, passed into the hands of that eminent citizen and distinguished and extensive foreign traveler and archologist, Hon. Vint Stillings, who no doubt will preserve it as a souvenir, perchance among its ruins in later years may be found divers and sundry mementoes, of vain hopes and lost immortalities.

The next flour mill was the Wilhite Mill down on the river bank between the river and the South Esplanade. It was formerly built by and used as Fritzen & Mundee's brewery, as before stated. After its abandonment as a brewery it was bought by Elijah Wilhite, a practical miller from Weston, Mo., who furnished it with first class mill machinery and operated it very successfully for a number of years. Judge M. W. Delahay was a partner at the time the mill was accidentally burned. The stone walls were afterwards removed by the W. P. R. R. Co., and the beer vault in the bank is all that is left to mark the spot.

The third flour mill erected in the city was the Phillip Koehler mill, down on Delaware street, east side near Broadway. It was built about 1865 or '66; it was said to be a most excellent flour mill of brick 100x125 feet, three stories in height. Koehler was successful for a number of years, but in his anxiety to do too much business for his capital, he got too deeply in debt and failed. The mill passed into the hands of Hines & Eaves, bankers, who operated it for a series of years and then sold it to H. D. Rush, Esq., who enlarged and greatly increased its capacity, by putting in the new process of roller mill machinery in the place of the old fashioned French burrs. He also built a large elevator near, it for storing wheat. He was doing a large business and making money rapidly, but unfortunately in an evil hour that fell destroyer, fire, the special foe of all mills and especially of flour mills, blew its destructive and withering breath upon it and it went up in smoke; all that was left of the magnificent structure was the towering smoke stack, blackened walls and the flour store room. The building has since been partially repaired and is now occupied as Vogle's Box Factory.

The fourth flour mill built in the city was Plummer Mill, at or near the foot of Kickapoo street, a short distance south of where Denton Bros.' elevator now stands. It was built in 1872 or '73. Plummer ran it a year or two but did not make a brilliant success, and sold it to H. D. Rush, Esq., who put more capital and his usual push into the business and of course it prospered and made money. But unfortunately fate overtook it, and on the 26th of February, 1876, it took fire and was totally destroyed. Mr. Rush not to be discouraged by one or even two fires, with the indomitable pluck, push and energy of a live western man in a short time had purchased of Hines & Eaves the Koehler Mill and had it rejuvinated and enlarged and was running it with renewed energy as above stated.

The fifth flour mill erected in the city was the Havens Mill built and operated by A. B. and Paul Havens, on the north end of block 1, Clark and Rees addition, just south of the bridge on Main street over Three Mile creek; the spot where it stood with its elevator and store house, is now occupied by the tracks, turntable and round house of the Union Pacific railway. The mill was a three story frame building about 45x100 feet, substantially built and thoroughly equipped with new and first class machinery. It was a success as a flour mill from its inception and with the capital, push and energy of its owners and operators, was making money and turning out a large supply of first class flour for a series of years. But alas that fire fiend, the special foe of all flour and grain mills (especially the "burr stone" mills and all others that are not provided with dust collectors and removers) laid its ruthless hand upon this great industry and on the 28th day of May, 1882, (if I mistake not) in the forenoon, in the short space of an hour totally destroyed this mill with most of its contents. Mr. A. B. Havens, who was in the mill at the time, in his anxiety to save his books in the office, came very near perishing in the flames so rapid was the destruction. He will carry the scars of that eventful and sad catastrophe with him to his grave.

The sixth flour mill built in the city was the White Mill, so called, erected and operated by a Mr. White, an extensive and practical miller from Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was built in 1883 on the south side of Choctaw street, near Fifth street. Mr. White after operating it successfully sold it to H. D. Rush, Esq. It is now known as the Leavenworth Mills of the late Rush Milling Co., second to no mill of its capacity for the quality of its flour in the entire West. It is now owned and operated by the Leavenworth Milling Company.

The seventh and largest flour mill in the city is the New Era Mills, on the north side of Choctaw street near Sixth, owned and operated by the Kelly & Lysle Milling Company. This great enterprise has no superior in its line, west of the Mississippi river. Its far famed product finds a ready sale all over the western country and in the markets of Liverpool and Glasgow. Our flour mills are among the leading industries of our city and upon their white wings bear our fame to every civilized land.

The eighth and last flour mill built in this city was the Cretors Mill on Oak street, south side, just west of Fifth street, about 1886. It is a well built, snug little mill, but unfortunately located, it should have been located on the line of some one of the many railroads which enter our city. The expense of the transfer of wheat and flour to and from the mill, was too great to successfully compete with other mills and the working capital too limited for certain success. After operating two or three years the project was abandoned. The mill is now used by the Acme Company as a corn meal mill.

Before closing the subject of our mills I must not overlook the Oat Meal mill of S. F. North. This was constructed about 1880 or '81 at the northeast corner of Main and Delaware streets on the former site of the large wholesale grocery house of Carney, Stevens & Co. A mill of this kind was a new feature in the milling business of this section. The mill was fitted up with the most improved machinery. Its product was of the very best quality. It was a success from its inception. But alas its prosperity was of short duration; it was soon brought to a sudden and untimely end. Mills in those and preceding days in this city seemed to be the especial favorites or perhaps, more properly speaking, the victims of the fire fiend. It had been in operation but a few years, when about noon one day, it suddenly and without a moment's warning, in some unaccountable way, took fire, every part of the structure seemed to be on fire at once. The impenetrable dust (as it is called) which was ever present in the building was like tinder, the flames spread with lightning rapidity. The fire engines were soon on the ground but the brave men were powerless to save the building or even stay the flames, and in less than an hour all that was left of the stately structure was a portion of the blackened walls that were not thrown down by the explosion. Nothing of much value was saved from the wreck, it was a total loss and was never rebuilt.


It perhaps may not be out of place in this connection if I refer to another mill or factory to which my mind reverts although of a different kind entirely from those above referred to. I allude to the Leavenworth Woolen Mills. A quite extensive plant for those days, which was erected in 1857 on, I think, block 10, Central sub division, on the west side of Railroad avenue on the west bank of the creek and immediately in the rear of the then Delahay, now McGonigle tract of land fronting on Broadway. Judge L. N. Latta and W. H. Hastings were the promoters of the enterprise. It flourished quite extensively for a number of years and was a success, in the quantity, quality and variety and sale of the products of its looms. But in this instance as of that of so many mills in those early days, it took fire and was destroyed and there being no insurance obtainable at so early a period in our city, it was a total loss and was never rebuilt.

The Leavenworth Carpet Mills. This company was organized and commenced work on a small scale at first, in 1870. In 1871 it increased its capital stock and built a large and quite an extensive plant, 45x125 feet, five stories high in the rear and four in front with additions on the south side of Choctaw street where the Leavenworth Bag factory now stands. A large quantity of first class products were turned out annually and the enterprise, a'though the first of the kind west of the Mississippi river, bid fair to prove a financial success to the entire satisfaction of is promoters. It prospered for a series of years until a most unfortunate and unexpected catastrophe befell it. In the early morning of the 24th of May, 1876, a small cyclone, the first and last that was ever seen or heard of in this vicinity, developed about Pilot Knob and passed down the south fork o Three Mile creek, increasing as it rushed onward in its destrutive flight, not doing any great amount of damage until it reached the above mills, direct in its path. With one fell swoop and without a moment's warning, like a mighty vulture descending from the skies upon its prey, it laid the entire building and its surroundings level with the ground, a total wreck with scarcely one brick or stone left to mark the spot of the late stately pile of industry. The remnants of the valuable machinery were afterwards gathered together and an attempt made to utilize them in the manufacture of coarse U. S. blankets but it did not prove a success and was abandoned.

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