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Bob Russell is the owner of the Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point. Photo by Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

Once a multi-state district sales manager for Canon USA, Eagle Point Mayor Bob Russell seven years ago traded it all for a dusty, 1872 gristmill and the bones of an old cheese factory nearby.

"I spent 20-plus years in the corporate world, flying 100,000 miles per year for work," Russell recalls.

"When you're in a different hotel room every day, you wake up in bed wondering, 'Where am I?' That just happened all the time. You can't help but daydream a little bit."

An antique collector since he was a young boy — he still treasures an 8-foot barber pole he and his father hauled from an abandoned building in Portland when he was 11 — Russell would treat himself to little getaways on business trips.

"I think the only way I kept my sanity for many years was I would try to work my schedule out so I could do a little antiquing and visit historical sites in my spare time," he recalls.

"Always, in the back of my mind, especially when we would be looking up at some old derelict building back East or somewhere, I'd say, 'I'd sure like to live in that old building.'"

Russell, who lived in Lake Oswego, first visited Southern Oregon after seeing an advertisement for an antique sale posted by Peter Crandall, who owned the Butte Creek Mill for 35 years.

While all the antiques were spoken for, Crandall, who died two years ago, tugged at Russell's sentimental side when he mentioned the historic mill was up for sale.

The Butte Creek Mill, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the only water-powered grist mill in Oregon that's been in continuous operation since the 19th century.

"When I hung up, I told my wife about it and I couldn't stop thinking about it," Russell says. "I thought it would be kind of fun to drive down sometime to see what a water-powered flower mill looked like.

Russell persuaded Debbie to make the drive south. Unfortunately, the Rogue Valley was so socked in with fog they got lost.

Once they finally made it to Eagle Point, Russell was immediately at home with the mill.

"I walked in the front door for the first time and I knew in seconds this was what I wanted," he says.

"Debbie looked more like a deer in the headlights."

Within days, the Russells made an offer on the more than half-million-dollar property.

"It was jump out of the frying pan into the fire. We had to do some major scrambling," Bob Russell recalls.

"Basically we were telling the bank, 'Once we sell our house in Lake Oswego, we need the money to buy this old mill that's really kind of a mess."

To seal the deal, Russell sold some of his antique collection. The couple paid $595,000 in cash for the 5,522-square-foot mill, a neighboring 2,275-square-foot abandoned cheese factory and the surrounding 1.72 acres and frontage on Little Butte Creek.

Further "major scrambling" would entail 17 U-Haul moving trucks, mostly packed with antiques, and months renovating the property and improving sales of their flours, pancake and waffle mixes, bran muffin mix, cornbread mix and spices.

"In my mind, it was such a great deal," he says. "But I don't think Debbie was so sure."

Debbie says after staying home and raising their three children, she felt it was time to help her husband pursue his dream.

"I guess it probably took a little convincing. I was pretty comfortable with our life up there and I was nervous about making this life change and moving away from our family and friends," she says.

"But he just wanted it so much that I figured, you never know until you try something new. I trust him and he really wanted it. I said I'd do it for two years and see where it went."

Six years later, the couple love where they've landed. Longtime miller Mike Hawkins says the Russells seemed a good fit from the start.

Hawkins says both Bob and Debbie jumped in feet first. Bob was elected Eagle Point's mayor in 2010 and both are actively involved in the community.

"It was definitely a learning thing for them when they got here. But they immediately got involved in the community and Bob opened the antique store," Hawkins says.

Hawkins reckons the mill was a good fit for an old antique hound from Portland.

"This was a pretty big antique for him, but I think he's happy with what he ended up with," Hawkins says.

Bob Russell couldn't agree more.

"I've never worked harder for less money in my life," he says. "Or been happier."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.



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