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Historic Manton Mill is Looking for a Partner

MAHRG is looking for a partner.  The Manton Area Heritage Restoration Group (MAHRG) hopes to partner with a business in need of space.  

The organization was founded as a non-profit in 2012 to encourage sustainable community development and history in the Manton area. The group’s first project is to preserve the local grain mill building. The structure stood vacant for several years, the tallest building in the small town of Manton; a single peak in its skyline. This is a rare opportunity to lease a large, historic grain mill, full of rugged beauty (but in need of extensive repair.)

The Phelps Brother’s grain mill is integrated with Manton’s history, and its deterioration follows a typical rural community story. In its hey-day, the city of Manton was a bustling agricultural community. It sported solid brick and clapboard homes, strong agricultural related businesses and factories, churches, a thriving downtown business district, and places of entertainment. There was even an opera house.  

And the Phelps Brother’s grain mill was more than a mill. The collection of buildings included a potato warehouse, lumber yard, and coal dealership warehouse. It’s location along the railroad tracks allowed shipping of bulk materials both into and out of town. Some of the associated grain mill buildings burned or have been torn down, but the main building remains.  

The grain mill was constructed in 1900 by a two-man partnership between Mr. James H. Baker and Charles Dellen Phelps. The men originally operated a grist mill at the edge of town which ran on water power from a damned stream. The men expanded their business with the city of Manton location that provided access to the railroad. A roller type of process was used at the new site to grind wheat, rye and buckwheat flours. Soon the partners added additional bulk goods shipped into the mill via rail. One of the main crops grown in the area was potatoes which were sorted and graded and shipped from the mill. Bean processes were also added.

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Main mill room has exposed wooden beams. Pulleys are visible

In 1914, Mr. Phelps took sole possession of the business.  Sons Charles Lloyd and Dudley Maynard Phelps became part of the business, and they took over operation when the elder Phelps died. The business sold in 1963 and a fire destroyed one of the structures in the early 1980’s. The mill continued to operate with a smaller footprint, mostly selling animal feed grains ground and mixed on site. The original grinders and many of the wooden storage bins remain on the upper floors of the building. Grains were moved from the grinder room to lower floors utilizing wooden chutes, which can still be seen on site.

During its operation the business served as a place for local residents to meet and chat on cold winter days around the woodstove in the sales room.  In addition, local farm women used the building’s kitchen to process farm and garden goods for home use.  Area residents still recall waiting in the steamy cannery for moms and older sisters to process canned goods in late summer.

The business changed hands several times beginning in the early 1960’s but it continued to function as a grain mill until early in 2000 when it was vacated.  MAHRG was the successful bidder when the structure went up for tax sale in 2014.  Since then the group has held fundraisers and written grants to do basic repairs on the building. The funding paid for Amish carpenters to put on a new roof. The most recent construction effort has been upgrading the bathroom to a handicapped accessible room.

MAHRG members operate a twice-weekly farm market (Editor’s note: the market recommences in June), and open the mill during community events. The group hopes to use the retail area for community and educational meetings, but the large open mill space remains untouched. The airy 53 x 36 foot room is a striking turn of the century post and beam structure with 15 foot high ceilings. MAHRG can offer non-profit status to apply for development grants and will lease the larger mill space to a business willing to invest in repairs in exchange for rent.

MAHRG is seeking to partner with an entrepreneur who needs space. The large rustic mill room, with exposed structural beams and wooden floor has potential for new ideas. Should someone wish to operate the mill for grain, site equipment may be used. This includes the grinders, two grain mixers including a large 1700 gallon (230 cubic foot) tank mixer, a corn chopper, molasses tank, scales, and an industrial bag sewer.

For information or a tour, call Bev Monroe at 231-824-3391 or visit Manton Area Heritage Restoration Group on Facebook.


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