Bob and Debbie Russell were looking for antiques when they first visited Eagle Point's Butte Creek Mill in 2004. They didn't find any antiques, but they did find a new life.
In the process, they've created a place where families can sit on the porch of a country store, picnic beneath a shade tree on the banks of a burbling creek and explore a world where little seems to have changed since 1872.
"It was a nasty, cold, foggy day, and I knew within 60 seconds that I wanted to buy this place," says Russell. "My wife wasn't quite as immediate as that."
Within two days of learning the mill was for sale, the couple had made an offer. Now, nearly five years later, the Russells have become a part, not only of the mill, but of Eagle Point itself. Even after years in the bustle of Portland, they adjusted quickly to the rhythm of life in a small town and to running a business that is open seven days a week.
Once the hub of Eagle Point, Butte Creek Mill today offers something for every member of the family. They conduct free, daily tours of the oldest water-powered grist mill west of the Mississippi River. Kids may get a chance to sew shut the top of a big bag of freshly ground whole-grain flour, investigate a tree gnawed down by a beaver and maybe catch sight of turtles sunning themselves on rocks in Little Butte Creek.
Adults can marvel at the hand-dressed beams and foundation stones of the mill, browse the aisles of the country store for every kind of grain, bean or spice imaginable or explore an antique store chock-full of collectibles.
On most weekends, the free samples come out — pancakes, beer-batter bread, dark-chocolate-cranberry-chocolate chip cookies — all made using mixes produced at the mill.
"The nutrition factor and the old-fashioned taste, you just can't get it anywhere else," says Bob Russell.
Tastings of locally produced cheeses, meats and wines join the mill's own samples on the second Saturday of every month. And through September, a Saturday market operates next door, with locally grown produce, crafts, food vendors and all kinds of handmade items.
In September, the mill will sponsor an art contest — the theme is Butte Creek Mill — with prizes that include mill gift certificates and cash. Entries will grace the mill's walls for the entire month, and visitors will be able to vote for the "people's choice" winner.
The whole front of the mill will be decorated in preparation for the Harvest Fair on the second Saturday of October, which will feature vintage tractors and a Dutch oven cook-off, with free samples of all the food entries. Young visitors likely will be invited to choose a free pumpkin to take home.
October and November will bring the return of the chinook salmon, which can be viewed from the fish ladder just upstream from the mill.
"Little Butte Creek is the most important tributary to the Rogue for wild chinook salmon," says Bob Russell. "The stream is protected, and people here respect that."
Respect is something the Russells have earned with their hard work and enthusiasm. Running Butte Creek Mill is a labor of love, and it shows.
"I haven't had one tiny regret, and neither has Debbie," he says.