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Russellville Roller Mills a successful business endeavor of Jacob L. Ritchie

by Jeremy P. Ämick [email protected] | December 4, 2021 at 5:10 a.m. | Updated December 4, 2021 at 5:10 a.m.

The railroad brought an economic boom to Russellville in the late 19th century, leading to the development and expansion of several business ventures.

But as the population around the community continued to grow, the need was recognized for a roller mill that could process locally produced grain into flour, inspiring the town to make a generous offer to a farmer.

Jacob Lee Ritchie, one of the proprietors of the Russellville Roller Mills, was born June 21, 1864, on a farm near Prairie Home, noted the late Erna Raithel in a souvenir book printed for Russellville’s sesquicentennial celebration.

She added, “For four years, he rented a farm near his birthplace; he also had a threshing machine and a sawmill.”

Ritchie demonstrated his proclivity for expanding upon his agricultural interests by purchasing a farm in Moniteau County and partnering with C.A. Edwards to build a mill in the small Boone County community of Huntsdale, where they began processing winter wheat into flour.

The Russellville area acquired the reputation of producing quality wheat, but since there was not a roller mill in town, local farmers made trips to locations such as the Flessa Flouring Mills in Centertown or the mill in nearby Decatur (defunct community south of Russellville) to have their wheat processed.

In an effort to develop the local economy and assist farmers with processing their wheat crops, business owners raised $1,000, offering it to Ritchie, along with a free piece of property, if he built a Roller Mill in Russellville.

“He accepted the proposition and built a fifty-barrel roller mill,” the sesquicentennial book revealed. “It soon became necessary for him to increase the capacity of the mill.”

The late L.A.B. Leslie, a former Russellville postmaster and historian, wrote, “The water to run the mill was supplied by a large pond that was the delight of all the young people in that ice skating was allowed.”

The mill was located on a piece of property on the corner of Jefferson and Marion streets, a short distance from the railroad. In attendance for the dedication, occurring around 1900, were several well-known local business owners. Michael Schubert, owner of a successful Russellville mercantile and Frederick Steffens, who owned a roller mill in Decatur, were present for the event.

Ritchie soon brought in Russellville area native and farmer William Allen Stark as a partner, and they quickly doubled the capacity of the mill. Stark had garnered a reputation as a gifted carpenter and built a stunning home below the mill that became the residence for Ritchie and his growing family.

Exhibiting restlessness and continued zeal for exploring other business opportunities, Ritchie and Stark sold the mill to August Sauer in 1904, who handled not only wheat, but sold different types of meal and feed. For a short time, Sauer operated the mill in partnership with Herman Brunning, before assuming full ownership.

After selling the mill, Ritchie and his family moved to Eugene, where he opened the community’s first flour mill and later purchased an interest in the Eugene Mercantile Company.

“August Sauer, at the Russellville Mill, has had a very busy week buying and handling wheat,” reported the Russellville Rustler on Aug. 13, 1909. The newspaper further explained, “There has been a constant string of wagons at his place, and he has something like 3,000 bushels of wheat on hand at the mill.”

In July 1914, Sauer dispelled the false rumor he had sold the mill and encouraged farmers to continue bringing their wheat. Throughout the next several years, shares of interest in the mill were purchased by Andy and Martin Doehla, both of whom were involved with the mill in nearby Lohman.

Recognizing the need for better access to the railroad for shipment of their products, a scale was constructed near the depot in 1919, according to the book titled “The Heritage of Russellville in Cole County.”

The Cole County Weekly Rustler reported July 2, 1926, the mill had been targeted by criminals.

“The burglars gained entrance to the building by smashing a front window,” the newspaper reported. “Unable to open the large cash register, they carried it away with them to the old Boaz mines where it was open and looted and then abandoned.”

Sales of flour to the Missouri State Penitentiary provided additional economic stability for the mill. Sadly, primary owner August Sauer died August 1929 in a truck crash near Tipton, resulting in his shares in the mill transferring to Andy and Mike Doehla.

A drought in the early 1930s decimated a large swath of wheat crops throughout the Midwest and, combined with financial distresses of the Great Depression, led to the mill being closed in 1933.

John F. Morrow, a building contractor from Russellville, disassembled the mill in the years after the Great Depression. The pond used for the steam engines use in milling was later drained and filled with dirt. The final removal of the mill’s existence came in April 2003 when the home built for the mill’s founder, Jacob Ritchie, burned to the ground.

Ritchie was a man of foresight and vision, grasping an opportunity to develop the initially successful business that became the Russellville Roller Mills.

“The Illustrated Sketchbook and Directory of Jefferson City and Cole County” explained he displayed a rare mixture of skills that helped a young man leaving home with only $150 garner a reputation for commercial achievement.

“Mr. Ritchie is a self-made man who is a natural mechanic,” the book stated. “His knowledge of machinery and mechanism and his practical ability to construct is rarely found in a man with practical business sense and untiring industry.”

Jeremy P. Ämick is writing a series of articles highlighting the history of the Russellville area in honor of Missouri’s bicentennnial.

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