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Floury speech

Butte Creek Mill Foundation President Sue Kupillas delivered words that are music to a business community’s ears Monday.

With the restored Butte Creek Mill anticipated to reopen by July next year, Kupillas told a Chamber Forum audience, “We are on time and on budget; I can’t emphasize that enough.”

For anyone who saw the ruins of the 146-year-old mill following the 2015 Christmas Day fire, the obstacles facing a rebuild were towering. But the Eagle Point community and surrounding region wasn’t about to let the National Historic Register landmark flour production and tourist attraction fade into history.

The unique elements of the mill dictated rebuilding sooner rather than later, requiring simultaneous construction and fundraising.

“We had to start building immediately because the foundation and substructure was deteriorating because of the rain,” Kupillas said. “It’s a race to keep the fundraising ahead of the building.”

To date, the foundation has raised $1.9 million from local, state and national contributors.

“Most donations are under $100,” she said.

Beyond its historical importance, Kupillas said, Butte Creek Mill is a critical economic engine, attracting visitors who have come to see other Southern Oregon tourist destinations.

“Most important is education,” she said. “Children and adults will learn that flour for pizza and bread comes from wheat grown in our fields, not from the stores.”

The water drawn from Little Butte Creek into the millrace feeding the mill is nonconsumptive and returns to the stream.

The hand-hewn, 14-by-14-inch, 40-foot beams, mimicking the original 1872 construction by John Daley and Eber Emery, are held together with wooden pegs. Oregon West Lumber Sales provided building materials for a third of the market rate, she said.

Unlike the original mill, the remake will include a fire-suppression system and a lift to provide access to the basement.

“We planned to be operational by spring, we thought we could nail a date down,” Kupillas said. “But this isn’t like throwing up a new building. We run into a surprise once in a while.”

In a relatively short period, the operation will become self-sustaining, she said. Earnings beyond operational needs will be turned into grants for other organizations.

Known as Snowy Butte Mill for its first half century, there have been milestones and hardships.

Former owner Bob Russell illustrated the mill’s early impact by relating an 1874 transaction receipt documenting an order for 20,000 pounds to be delivered to Fort Klamath. The mill’s store was added in 1881 to house retained product for trade and sale.

“The way the mill operated, they would keep one out of every seven bags of grain that came in as payment, and they needed a store,” Russell said.

Butte Creek Mill flour mixes have been a popular gift for decades.

Shortly after Russell and his late wife, Debbie, assumed control of the mill in 2005, Lithia Motors executive Dick Heimann paid a mid-December visit.

“I’d like to order 435 of those big gift boxes, and we need them in four days,” Russell said. “I knew he was doing that because when you’re starting a business like this, you’re struggling. They were kind enough to do that, and as a salesman I said, ‘Sure we can do that.’ We were up until 10 or 11 o’clock every night. And when we weighed the final load, we had 13,000 pounds of product. But we got it delivered on time.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.


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