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Down by the Old Mill Stream

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on July 31, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM


If you like treasure hunts, you'll love this week's "Grant's Getaways" to one of the newest, oldest sites that Oregon State Parks Department offers visitors across the state.

There's simply nothing like what you'll find "down by the old mill stream" at Thompson's Mills State Heritage Area; especially when Park Manager Doug Crispin tells the unique tale of Oregon history at one of the newest state park properties the 19th century comes to life.



It is history that dates back more than 150 years to a time when leather belts wrapped wooden wheels to move augers and elevators that carried grain that gave life to the earliest settlers of the Willamette Valley.


It was a time when the Calapooia River produced hydropower that moved all manner of machinery at Thompson's Mills near Shedd, Oregon.


Martin Thompson owned the mill for much of its life and even built a Queen-Anne styled cottage next door.

But it was the gleaming whitewashed grain silos and the towering five-story mill that marked the site for miles around.

Crispin said that Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department was so impressed with the treasured landmark that they bought the mill, the cottage and the surrounding property a few years ago.


"Every time I walk through this mill and see the axe marks on these original timbers, it comes alive to me. I just marvel at the craftsmanship, the hard work and the ingenuity of our pioneer ancestors. Plus, the fact that it still stands today."

Restoration efforts at the site continue and offer hands-on exhibits that show you how tons of grain was moved and then milled with giant limestone millstones.


It's a remarkable site with many hidden nooks and crannies according to Crispin, who added it is: ..."the sort of place that demands exploration."

Thompson's Mills flour was shipped across the country - even to China and Europe. Parts of the process offer homespun memories for visitors who recall the double-life of cotton flour bags.


"They were recycled and made into aprons," noted Crispin. "Or tea towels
by thrifty farm wives during the Great Depression and World War Two. Folks were recycling the old flour bags long before it was fashionable - back then it was simply more practical."

It's a site that holds on to history and it is even more amazing when you consider that it was all built by what Crispin termed, "Saddle Back Engineering."


"All of this - the mill, the cottage, the machinery - was built and put into place long before GPS, long before aerial photography, laser levels or any modern technological help. These people figured the whole thing out by cruising the neighborhood on foot and on horse."

It's a wonderful visit into an earlier time and place that's pretty much like it was - a century ago or longer - - and that makes it all worth your time.

You might consider making your visit to "Thompson's Mills State Heritage Site" part of your entry in a unique travel contest. It's called the Oregon 150 Challenge and it offers a unique dream vacation as a grand prize.