Butte Creek Mill had a soft front-porch opening last November. This weekend is an open house to mark the mill’s 150th anniversary. [Mail Tribune/file photo]
An open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday will give supporters of Butte Creek Mill a chance to get back inside the beloved old general store to check out progress made since the mill was nearly destroyed by fire almost seven years ago Christmas Day.
This weekend’s celebration, in honor of the mill’s 150th anniversary, will also boast the things that organizers say are expected to happen inside the landmark each year during the fall harvest — from buying pancake mix and drinking cider to enjoying fiddle music and marveling at all the offerings of the only water-powered mill still in operation west of the Mississippi.
If the walls could talk, they’d tell tales of locals who raised their families on the flour, pancake mixes and spices offered for more than a century at the mill.
More recently acquired tales would include a devastating fire, but also stories of volunteers and even former employees who devoted countless hours to rebuild and restore, from a post-fire bucket brigade to cleaning up the site to now learning to produce stone-ground flour and sell products to finish restoring the mill for the community.
Former owner and onetime Eagle Point mayor Bob Russell, an adviser for the nonprofit that formed after the fire, said the road has been long. Russell, who deeded the mill to the nonprofit to ensure its restoration, said community support for the mill has breathed life back into its wooden walls.
Reopening, at long last, is near.
“I don’t want to jinx us, but we’re moving right along. We got our occupancy stamped by the city of Eagle Point so that we can open the general store, the lobby and the milling room,” he said.
“We’re making product to bring in revenue to continue work on the mill. We’ll eventually reopen like it was, but for now we’re hoping to do a few days a week. It’s really almost surreal to think it will have been seven years come Christmas.”
Russell said there are still some loose ends to finish up with fire-suppression systems and restoring the basement area for public access before a full reopening can be declared.
All told, some $600,000 is still needed to fully complete restoration efforts.
To that end, Russell said, restoration likely will continue, in some ways, for years to come.
“We haven’t done the basement yet, but we got things back in operation so we can use the mill to make product to sell, to generate income, to put back into the mill,” he said.
Russell said he looked forward to holiday events, community members wandering along the creek and a garden that will be named for his late wife, Debbie, with whom he bought the mill in 2005.
He credited volunteers, community members and “a good board of all Eagle Pointers” on the Butte Creek Mill Foundation for getting the mill reopened to the community. If all goes well, holiday hours will commence immediately after.
“We hope to at least be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday until the holidays. Possibly Sundays,” Russell said.
The best part about opening the mill to visitors this weekend, Russell said, would be the reaction and the looks on the faces of community members who have been waiting and hoping for almost seven years.
“People come by, and they say, ‘Oh, the mill, yeah, that burned two or three years ago.’ But no, it’s been seven years come Christmas. I think there’s definitely a certain amount of fatigue with the public, wanting to see things happen more quickly. And we’re all feeling that for sure, too,” Russell said.
“We’ve had some giddyups and whoas. We had a sign we put up that said, ‘Reopening in 2019!’ But you just can’t always predict what will or won’t happen. It’s been a long road.”
Russell said it was emotional to see the old mill nearly restored.
“In the long run, when you walk back into that front door, you’re really seeing the old Butte Creek Mill, risen from the ashes. … We have had people walk into the general store and start crying,” he added.
“It’s like of having an old friend come back to you.”
This weekend’s 150th anniversary of Butte Creek Mill will feature the Old Time Fiddlers, who have played at the mill for years, in addition to samples of the mill’s signature buckwheat flapjacks, samples of other products made at the mill, items for sale in the general store, tours of the renovations made since the fire, other activities and a raffle.
For more info, see buttecreekmill.com
For event or product details, call 541-690-5356 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.