Washington County, Illinois
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Washington County Historical Society
Vol. 2, No. 2, 1978, pgs. 3-6
By Bernice Reinhardt
The Old Mill at New Minden
The huge old mill stands at the southeast edge of New Minden, where it has stood since 1865. In trying to learn more
of its history, I consulted the "History of Washington County, 1879", which provided a great deal of interesting
information about New Minden.
Although parts of Covington precinct, where New Minden is located were settled in 1818, it was not until 1865 that the village of New Minden was laid out by Frederick Kasten. The earliest settlers of the precinct had come from various parts of the U. S., such as Maryland and Kentucky, with one even a native of Ireland. However, by the 1840's and 1850's most of these original settlers had sold their farms to German settlers. The first of these, who came in 1840 was said to be F. W. Hoffman, great, great grandfather of both my husband and me.
In about 1853, a German named Schmidt opened a general store 1½ miles north of the present location of New Minden. He later built a store building on the present site of New Minden and continued in business there until 1865, when he sold out to J. H. Sabert.
By 1879, there had been three additions to the village and it was a thriving town of some 300 people. At that time it had three general stores - those of J. H. Sabert, Henry Reinhardt (my husband's great-grandfather) and Louis Kilbrock - also a clothing store kept by William Keentemeyer. There were three blacksmith and wagon shops, three shoemakers, one tinshop, one brickyard, two hotels - those of Ernest Budde and Christ Hasseldick. The town also boasted of three physicians, Dr. Salem Goodner, Dr. M. W. Caster and Dr. August Ranke. There was a large Lutheran Church and school and the mill.
The mill was built in 1865, the same year New Minden came into being, by C. (Charles or Carl) Weihe and Company. The fact that this old stone grist mill still stands, after 113 years and has withstood two tornadoes, the first of which (that of 1896) practically leveled New Minden - killing at least five and injuring many more, attests to its sturdy construction. One of those killed was Ren Smith, a farm machinery salesman of Nashville, who had drawn up his team beneath a shed to escape the fury of the storm. In this connection, "This is Washington County 1818-1968" has the following bit of information. In 1896, a vicious tornado completely disrupted this peaceful community, leaving in its wake only a twisted, tangled mass of debris. The church was gone, so were most of the dwellings. Only the stone mill survived intact.
In 1907 a second storm leveled the school and several houses. Again there were deaths and injuries. It was this storm which took the lives of Herman Weihe's parents and two brothers. Only Herman was spared and he was injured.
After being asked to learn more about the mill, I contacted Ruth Collmeyer Stuart, who grew up in New Minden, but now lives in Orlando, Fla. she was very helpful in providing the following information.
She told me she remembers the old mill well and that as a small child she thought her step-grandfather, Charles Winte, owned it. Although, she said, he may have only worked there. At any rate he would take her to the mill and show her around. After she was a little older she remembers being sent there with her little red wagon to buy flour. After her grandfather was older and becoming senile, she said her grandmother always thought she had to check up on the mill to see that all was going right.
She went on to say, this grandfather had quite a few children and that two of his daughters married Vulbrocks - one Henry and the other Louis. She told me she knew Henry worked at the mill, but wasn't sure about Louis, but did know he lived near the mill. Also, she told me Louis daughter, Lillian, lives in New Minden and could probably tell me more. I contacted Lillian, who not only proved to be an excellent source of information, but had clippings which were most helpful.
Lillian told me that her father had at one time owned the mill as had Henry and his son Paul. Oscar Vulbrock also worked there. Her grandfather, Louis Vulbrock, Sr., also owned the mill from 1880-1902. In 1879, the mill was run by Meyer and Hohlt.
Among Lillian's clippings there was one from the Nashville News dated Feb. 24, 1966. A picture of Louis Klenke and his wife taken at the time he was a miller at the Louis Vulbrock Sr. flour mill at New Minden, a position he held from 1880-1902. It said the couple had 8 children - one of whom, Lulu, is still living in California. It said older members of the community recall that members of the family were fond of music and played various instruments. Bill Klenke of Nashville of Nashville, a son of Mr. & Mrs. George Klenke is a grandchild.
Another clipping of interest was a page of the Centralia Sentinel, Sunday, July 13, 1969, called "A look at the New Minden Mill" by Judith Phelps. Lillian and Paul Vulbrock, who were double cousins had been interviewed for the article. In the article they were quoted as saying they really did not know who built the mill or exactly when, but believed to have been around the time of the Civil War, and that is was originally owned by the community with many persons holding stock in it. Paul reiterated that his grandfather Louis Vulbrock Sr. had the mill from 1880-1902. Lillian recalled that at that time Henry Weihe was engineer and Charles Steinkamp and Henry Reuter hauled flour from the mill to Nashville, by wagon on mud roads.
Lillian also spoke of playing in the stream that escaped from the engine room on the east side of the building, as a child. She said "We would close our eyes tight and run back and forth in the stream, bumping into each other and Laughing." She said many others who grew up in New Minden spoke of playing hide and seek in the large five story rambling building, which was built of native stone, broken by hand, out of the creek near the area. Coal to fire the boilers was hauled from the Nashville mine, Paul said. He remembers watching the millers bank the fires at night.
Other memories include the smoke stack which was as high as the mill. The whistle, too, made quite an impression. He said "You should have seen that whistle, They got it from a steamboat and put it on top of the lean-to roof off the engine room." The east part of the mill was the engine room with the west end used for office and storage space.
Paul spoke freely about the days when the mill was in full operation. The cooper shop located northeast of the mill was a part of the operation. Barrels for the flour were made here. He believes the light finished wood for the barrels proper, was shipped in, since there is no wood of that type around here. However, the hoops which were put around the barrels, were made of Hickory saplings which grew down by the pond. They were spliced down the center and soaked in the pond. The ends were then notched and hooked together to form the hoops. Lillian thought each barrel held 196 pounds of flour.
Three huge mill stones which were used for grinding wheat were still in the building, one in it's original position. They are unusual stones, very smooth, believed to have been brought here from another country, possible France. The sides were covered with metal. The top stone turned and the bottom stationary. The miller could adjust the space between stones to regulate the grinding process. After being ground it was taken upstairs and sifted through silk cloths to separate the flour from the hull substance. This hull part was then used to feed stock. Some of the wooden augers which carried the ground wheat to the top floor were still in the basement of the building at that time. They were hand-made, out of a large beam with small wedges of wood notched into it and twisted circular fashion. Flour in barrels and later in cotton sacks, was taken to Nashville and later shipped south. It was also used by the local house-wives for baking bread.
In 1969, the mill was covered with moss and ivy, having ceased operations in 1923 or 1924. Milk cows and later sheep grazed in the pastures around the building and drank from the mill pond.
Paul, who lives across the road from the mill, says many people drive up the road to view the building and some even seek him out to ask questions about it. Antique lovers have made many offers to buy the mill stones and other equipment but at the tiem he was interviewed in 1969, he thought he probably would keep them. He said some of the stones was in use as a foundation for a watering trough at his home.
In December of 1975, George E. Borum of Centralia, purchased the mill from Paul Vulbrock. At the time he would make no statement as to the future of the building. I have been told it has again been sold to a Mr. Glen Hartoy of Chesterfield, Mo. I'm not sure of his plans for it, but rumor has it that he plans to convert it into a house. If this is true Minden's historic landmark, as we know it, will soon be a thing of the past.