You might say that Salem's flour mills had their beginning
with the grist mills the first pioneers built throughout the
first settlement in the 1840s. Jason Lee had a saw and
grist mill on North Mill Creek at Liberty Street which ground
enough wheat to feed the small community. Local farmers
using a "grapevine" cradle cut a daily average of
three acres of hard winter wheat which provided enough for
their home, and a little to barter. A steam threshing engine
of 15-horsepower, and a separator, improved production in
1870 to the point where there was a substantial surplus.
The Salem Flouring Mills Company was built in 1865 on the
north bank of the millrace where it empties into the Willamette
River just south of Trade Street. The mill was financed by
owners of the Willamette Woolen Mill, which had been built
a decade earlier in North Salem. The mill was sold in 1870
to the Kinney Brothers of San Francisco and, at the time,
was described as the largest mill of its kind in Oregon and
Salem's leading industry; it could turn out 400 barrels of
flour a day.
The wheat taken in was ground daily by paddle wheels and
loaded on steamboats at the Ferry Street landing for ship-ment
to Portland, San Francisco, and England. The mill was completely
destroyed by fire on Septem-ber 22, 1899, along with all the
A new mill was soon producing more than 400,000 bushels of
flour annually, using only water power. The lumber for the
new mill was provided by the Capital Lumbering Company adjoining
it. In 1910, A. N. Bush bought the mill but, after it burned
again in 1915, Bush sold the site and water rights to Oregon
Pulp and Paper Company, whose owner also owned half of the
Spaulding Lumber Company - an adjoining sawmill to the north.
Their flour brand, best-known and almost universally
used locally, was the "Wild Rose" flour. They also
marketed the "Salem" and "Pride of Oregon"
brands commercially and, for the international markets, "Arcadia"
for Liverpool; "Pagoda," "Green Girl,"
and "Eagle" for China and Japan; and "Salem
Steamer" for British Columbia. A large business was done
in cattle feeds and bran, brought in from other mills.
The Capitol Flouring Mills were built in 1877 further north
where North Mill Creek empties into the Willamette River;
the Willamette Valley Milling Company was built near them
at the foot of Division Street in 1882. The latter burned
October 7, 1904, in what was alleged to be an incendiary fire.
At the time, a millrace ran southward along High Street to
Division, and along it to the river.
The Capital City Mills, with Bryant and Pennell as proprietors,
was supplying flour and mill feed from the SE corner of Church
and Trade in 1902.
Other early mills included the South Salem Steam Flouring
Mills owned by John H. Moores in 1874; and the Excelsior Mills
in 1880. Cherry City Milling operated at 300 South Church
in 1921 and at Trade & High in 1931; E. T. Barkus and
Son were at 887 South Commercial; D.A. White and Sons were
at 251 State in 1911; and Morris was at 2576 Fairgrounds Road
Researched and written by Joan Marie "Toni" Meyering
"Primitive Grist, Sawmill Salem's First Industries",
Capital Journal, November 18, 1952.
"Ripples of Activity", Statesman-Journal, September
"The Salem Flouring Mills Company", Oregon Statesman
Daily, Illustrated Annual, 1903.
"Salem Flouring Mills Company to Rebuild its Plant",
Oregon Statesman, April 6, 1901.
"Salem Has Large Flouring Mills", Oregon Statesman,
January 1, 1910.