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image.gif (2459 bytes)       Chase County, Nebraska


                                        Mills in Chase County

        Since it's organization in 1938, the  Chase County Historical Society  has been collecting information about early life in Chase County, Nebraska, and publishing their findings in a series of Histories which can be purchased directly from the Society, or viewed at the Imperial Public Library which has copies in its collections in Imperial, Nebraska.    Following are some of the reports on interesting sites in Chase County which they have published in their Histories.  The information is not always full of facts or attributed to definite sources,  but is based on information told by early settlers or their families.  I am grateful for all the research and hard work the members of the Society have done for researchers today and in years to come.

Bussell Mill Champion Mill Wauneta Mill

 Champion Mill

"There is a new miller out of the West
Of all the flour, his is the best
So keep on hand all you need
For every sack is guaranteed"

(ad which appeared in Chase County telephone book)

        The Champion Mill was started on September 1, 1886, by Thomas Scott, according to a story reported in the Hamilton Herald, the local newspaper in Hamilton.   The town's name of Hamilton was officially  changed to Champion on May 26, 1887.  It was named after Champion S. Chase, the first Attorney General of Nebraska and also a former mayor of Omaha.  Champion S. Chase honored Champion with his presence on July 4, 1997 and gave the Independence Day address.

        Champion fought with Imperial and Eldridge for the right to be named the County Seat for Chase County.   During this debate during the spring and summer of 1886, the Champion Mill site was one reason given why Champion should become the County Seat.  Those in favor of Champion becoming the County Seat contended, "The advantages to be derived from having a mill centrally located and convenient for the farmers of the county can not be questioned."

        Early residents told researchers that large stones from an old rock corral near Champion were used in the foundation of the mill.  The corral had been built by cattlemen before people began to homestead in the area.  Pauline Smith told researchers that when she was young she lived near the mill at the time of the fire.  She said she lost her skates in the fire, as they had left them at the mill after they were through ice skating.   She said that the mill was rebuilt by Dick James.  The December 26, 1892 issue of the Chase Count Enterprise reported that Dick James purchased the Champion Flouring Mill.

Thomas Jordan Ownership

        Thomas Jordan was an early owner of the Champion Mill.  Before owning the mill he had owned a mill in Wilcox, Kearney County, Nebraska.  After three years he traded the Wilcox mill for  160 acres near Minden, Nebraska, and a small house and lot in Minden, which he gave to his parents.  In 1897 he traded the Minden farm for the mill at Champion.   Jordan's family told researchers that the flour produced at the mill at the time was called the Champion Roller Mill Flour.  However, a February 9, 1899 issue of the Chase County Enterprise reported that " the Champion Roller Mill is making a new brand of flour called the Home Flour that is giving excellent satisfaction."   John Otto held a mortgage on the mill at the time of Jordan's ownership and when Jordan sold the mill, he took the house and lot near the mill for his equity.  Roy Jordan, son of Tom Jordan, planted the trees around the dam at the mill when his father was the owner.

Milton Yaw - John Forester Ownership

        John Otto and Tom Jordan deeded the mill to Milton Yaw and John Forester in March of 1908.  Milton Yaw purchased a Fuller car in 1908,one of the early cars in the area, and used it for driving from his farm to the mill in Champion.

        Milton Yaw's daughter, Evea Mead, told researchers that her father tried to convince local housewives that unbleached flour was the best to use for baking, but eventually gave in and bleached the flour.

        The mill proved to be a major undertaking for him in addition to running his farm.  In the spring the mill dam was washed out by high water which came down the Frenchman River.   The dam would need to be rebuilt or repaired, as it was the only source of power for the mill.

        On April 10, 1914, Margaret Forester, wife of John Forester, deeded the Forester interest to Yaw.   In 1915 George Spady, and his brother Henry Spady, put in scales at the mill.

Domina Robert Ownership

        Milton sold his interest in the mill to Domina Robert on March 12, 1918.  Mrs. Robert told researchers that wagons would be backed up in long lines waiting to get their wheat ground into flour.  The farmers would not have to take all their flour at once, but would be given credit and could pick up their flour as needed.

        Edna Robert said, "The main worry was high water.  It was necessary to watch at night and remove a board (when the water rose).  This was done with a special hook.  A kerosene lantern was the only light to work by."

        In November 1922, W. A. Allen, the Champion Miller, won a $20 prize on a sample of flour in a contest sponsored by the Anglo America Milling Company in Owensboro, Kentucky.  This was considered an honor by the mill because many millers, perhaps hundreds, had participated.

        On December 29, 1925, 5h3 Bemis Brothers Bag Company sent a clipping of the Champion Mill taken by the University of Nebraska to the Mill, and the notation under the picture said that the mill had a capacity of 100 barrels.

        On November 5, 1925, Domina Robert sold one-half interest to John L. Banks  and his brother George Banks.

        George Spady reported that he installed new machinery at the mill when John Banks was operating the mill.

The Champion Mill and the John L. Banks Family

        John L. Banks was first employed at the Champion Mill in the year 1919.  He and his brother George were partners in farming and grain processing activities in the area southwest of Champion.  They owned and operated threshing machines, cornshellers and other farm equipment.  They operated the farm known at that time as the Heady place, which was located five miles  southwest of Champion.

        John was employed by Domina Robert as office manager and bookkeeper of the Champion Mill.  He made the trip to the mill each day on horseback.  In 1919 Mr. Robert and the Banks Brothers entered into an agreement whereby the Banks Brothers purchased one-half interest in the mill.  The operating company became known as the Champion Mill Company.

        In 1919 John and George L. Banks moved to Champion.  They purchased the property then known as the Benson place for a home.

        Mr. Domina Robert and the Banks Brothers were very active aggressive businessmen.  Extensive feed lots were constructed and  soon they were feeding and shipping many carloads of hogs and cattle per year.  The cattle were generally true Texas steers with beautiful long horns.

        They actively promoted recreation at Champion Lake.  Facilities were constructed for bathing, swimming, boating, fishing and picnicking under the shade of dozens of huge cottonwood trees in the parks on three sides of the lake.

        In the winter many ice houses were filled with huge cakes of ice packed in straw.  It was cold, hard work but in the summer people made delicious iced tea and lemonade.  The ice houses at Champion Lake were some of the few ice houses in town.

        Mr. William Allen was the mill operator at the time the Champion Mill Company was formed.  He was remembered by those who knew him as very competent and stern.  Running the mill was his life.  Children in the area were said to be somewhat scared of him.  He retired about 1924.

        Mr. Andrew Munson was employed in the mill at one time.  He commuted weekly from Culbertson, Nebraska to the mill to make flour.  Andy, as he was known by, enjoyed the arrangement in the summer especially when he could fish in the lake.  At the time Champion Lake was one of the best angling places in the state.  Winters were more difficult for him, and he retired in the fall of 1925.

        John L. Banks had acquired ample knowledge of the mill after his time working at the mill, and in 1925 he took over operation of the mill.  The Banks/Domina partnership was dissolved, and the Banks Brothers purchased the mill outright.

        Mr. Domina Robert forged into other fields.  He was an early pioneer in irrigating potatoes, beans and other crops, and was known as a progressive man in the community.

        The years of 1924 and 1925 were years of crisis in Chase County, as other places in the United States.   Wheat, corn and livestock prices tumbled to an all-time low.  Many people were severely hurt. 

        George Banks took over the farming and feeding activities and John L. Banks promoted the mill.   Flour, bran, pancake flour and cornmeal were sold to nearby towns.  Regular deliveries were made to Imperial, Grant, Venango, Haigler, Benkelman and Lamar.   Farmers from many miles around brought wagon loads of corn and wheat to trade for flour or other products, or to have it crushed for livestock feed.

        John L. Banks was a firm believer in the products he made.  The wheat he used to make flour with was thoroughly washed and scrubbed before it was used.  It was then dried and put through several sets of steel rollers until it thoroughly pulverized.  It then went into a battery of imported silk screens where the bran and hulls were removed.   The flour was then put into a series of electric arcs to make it a beautiful white color.  Mr. Banks resisted the trend to bleach the flour and no chemicals were used.   As long as he owned the mill he used natural ingredients in making the flour.

        Many factors were considered when the Banks Brothers sold the mill to Mr. Glen Knotwell.  John L. Banks had developed a bad cough from breathing flour dust, and therefore, health was one factor.  After the market crashed in 1928-29, they still had bills to pay from the farms and livestock business they owned.  The were forced to consolidate and the mill was sold.

        Arie Goddard Banks, wife of John L. Banks, and daughter of Ira Goddard of Chase County,  was a help in all aspects of the mill's operations.  The was a constant source of strength in all the trying times that befell the family.  John L. Banks took great pride in her and was always at ease when he left the family in her care. 

        Arie tested flour for the mill by baking a batch of bread from each wheat load of flour that was run off from the mill.  She fed harvest hands and haymen fried chicken from the chickens she raised herself.  She made huge meals to send along the way to feed the men who were driving the cattle to market.

        Arie was a strong figure after John's death.  She raised her younger children alone and cared for George in her home during his long illness.  Her grandchildren were a great source of joy to her in her later years.

        Mrs. Banks' ability as a homemaker and the thousands of loaves of bread she used to bake from Will Rise Flour were long remembered by her family and those who knew her.  The many children who swam in Champion Lake in the summer remembered her as "Mom Banks" and remembered fondly the delicious taste of her cinnamon rolls that she would serve after swimming or skating.  (Information on the Roberts/Banks Brothers ownership of the mill was provided by John Kermit Banks and Belva A. Banks Caranci, children of John L. and Arie Goddard Banks.)

Glen and Leta Knotwell Ownership

        Glen Knotwell once owned a threshing machine, and was very machinery-minded.  He was looking for a business and when he learned that the Champion Mill was for sale he looked it over and purchased it on February 19, 1929, from D. Robert and John and George Banks.  He also purchased the house owned by W. A. Allen, who was the previous miller.

        Knotwell made  a number of changes in the mill including the name which he and his wife changed to Lakeside Roller Mill.  Mrs. Knotwell became the bookkeeper for the firm.

        The roof was raised on the north side to accommodate new machinery which enabled them to make two grades of flour.  The new machinery was shipped in from Minneapolis, Minnesota.   The dam was rebuit and a new wate wheel was purchaed which was submerged beneath the building.

        The Knotwells chose the following brand names to their flour:  Valley Pride for their 1st grade flour and Prairie Rose for their 2nd grade flour.

        In the beginning a man named Jones, from Crete, Nebraska, came to work as miller for the Knotwell.  They made pancake flour and corn mean.  Their flour was shipped to Holyoke and Wray, Colorado and to several towns in western Nebraska. 

        On some nights they ran the mill all night to catch up on orders.  Knotwell employed three men most of the time.  John Knotwell, Glen's brother, worked at the mill until his marriage.    During the years of the Great Depression, they exchanged flour for wheat, and people greatly appreciated the bartering. 

        Other improvements made during their tenure included a new scale and a new commercial feed mill.   Mr. Knotwell passed away in 1953.  The milling of flour was discontinued at Champion Mill dring World War II when their was shortage of labor.  Mrs. Knotwell continued with the mixing feed business until 1956 at which time she sold the business to Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hill.

Carl and Pearl Hill Ownership

        Carl Hill, became owner in 1956 when he sold his farm.  He said in 1962, "I don't know if I got out of mush work or not.  You're on your feet practically all the time."  Mrs. Hill acted as bookkeeper.  The Hills found the busiest season to be in October and November when the farmers were getting their feed ready for winter use.  Carl said at the time, "I roll the farmer's grains and mix feed for them.  It is usually barley, milo and corn that is mixed.   Sometimes as a lasat operation as the feed comes out of the mill, molasses is added."

        The Hills said that they never had a shortage of water because the Frenchman River is fed by underground springs.  During cold periods it was necessary to keep the mill going and the water agitated to keep it from freezing.  One of the hazards of water-power was at flooding times and the mill could be damaged.  "In the Spring of 1960 when the heavy snows melted the Frenchman raised to flood level, we stayed in the mill all night,"  Mr. Hill recalled, "but we didn't receive any damage,"   he added gratefully.

        Itr was not all work, as Carl sometimes set lines out the window and caught fish, including a reported 32 pound catfish at one time.

        In June 1968 the Hills retired from the mill.  Carl was 67-years-old at the time and the work was getting too much for one man to handle.  In July of 1969 the mill was purchaed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for $7,000.00.  The mill property was joined with the state recreation grounds.  The mill is presently open to public for visitors.   The Games and Parks operates a web site for the Champion Mill for those who cannot visit it in person.


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