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Steam powered flour

In November 1880, Jacksonville’s Oregon Sentinel newspaper editor, William Turner, took a stroll through town, admiring the new buildings and businesses that had sprung up over the previous year.

“Would it not be well for us to examine into the progress we have made in the year now nearing its close?” he said. “The writer took unto himself the pleasant task of inquiring into the various buildings that have been erected and the improvements to others.”

Turner’s first stop was the new Steam Flouring Mill. “One of the finest structures of the kind on the Pacific Coast,” he said.

Located at what was the end of East C Street at the time (roughly today’s 800 block), the mill was owned by Thomas McKenzie and Elbert Foudray.

Born in Scotland, McKenzie came to Oregon in 1855 and settled in Jackson County. He had extensive experience grinding flour at different locations throughout the valley, but rather than creek or river water to power his grinder, McKenzie had chosen steam.

Elbert Foudray was born in Kentucky and always remembered celebrating his 28th birthday, while rounding “The Horn” of South America in 1849. Perhaps he came as a miner, but like so many, soon turned to storekeeping in Jacksonville.

Both men served in government. Foudray was county clerk and later a judge in Jackson County Justice Court. McKenzie was Jackson County sheriff during the Modoc War in 1873, when the military refused to give him custody of Captain Jack and the other Modoc prisoners. Foudray was second in command of the Jacksonville volunteers during that conflict.

Turner said the McKenzie-Foudray flour mill was three stories high and stood on a firm, stone foundation.

“The machinery is of the latest and most improved pattern,” he said, “and is capable of manufacturing the finest quality of flour. Mr. Foudray informed the writers that if needed, they can grind into flour all of the surplus wheat that is grown in Rogue River Valley, and I believe it. One day recently they manufactured in one hour 1,100 pounds of splendid flour.”

Both men said they had invested $11,000 (over $295,000 in today’s dollars) into the business and its equipment.

“Foudray and McKenzie are thorough mill men,” Turner said, “and I think we speak the sentiment of the people when we say they deserve our patronage.”

They were off to a good start and by the fall were taking in their first crop.

The first sign of trouble came just over a year later. Attorney P.P. Prim had called a Dec. 2, 1882 meeting with all creditors of McKenzie and Foudray. The flour mill was apparently running low on money and the creditor’s meeting was to work out what action to take.

A month later, the committee in charge of buying a new fire engine was ordered to collect interest on a promissory note signed by the partners in favor of the fire engine fund.

Then, on March 24, 1883, Sheriff Jacobs offered the mill for sale at auction because of unpaid taxes. There was only one bid. Jacobs thought Gustav Karewski’s offer of $5,700 was too low and postponed the auction for a week. Again, Karewski’s was the only bid and he took over the mill.

After ordering new equipment from San Francisco, Karewski was in business, and by 1885, the local newspaper was claiming that the mill produced enough flour to rank third in the entire state.

The partners’ dreams were bigger than their bankroll, and each had paid the price.

McKenzie opened a saloon and died in 1889, and Foudray moved to farm in Phoenix and died in 1903.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.