Hodgson Mill: The Old and the New
If the old water mill on the packaging of Hodgson Mill’s products seems familiar, it is no wonder. The most photographed in the United States, the old red mill has been around since 1882, but its history began much earlier.
Deep in the heart of the Ozarks, the site where the old mill still stands was originally used to power a grain mill in 1837. It was destroyed and another mill was built in its place. The second mill burned down as Missouri endured the violence and chaos of the Civil War.
On January 20, 1869, Mr. William Holman purchased the land under the Homestead Act of 1820, which allowed a person to buy 40 acres of land for $50. Holman immediately went about constructing a mill on the Bryant River. Following Holman’s death in 1879, the mill changed hands several times, finally being acquired by Alva and Mary J. Hodgson in 1884. Alva Hodgson used the cotton gin and grist mill on the property for a time but eventually came to realize the most profitable use of the facility would be to mill flour. In order to mill flour, costly improvements had to be made.
In the winter of 1884, Hodgson went to Louisiana to earn extra money working in a saw mill. Hodgson used the money he earned to build a new flour mill. Working primarily by himself from dawn to dusk every day except Sunday, Hodgson built the new mill and began producing unbleached flour and cornmeal in 1897. The new mill was no old-fashioned mill with a water wheel. Instead, it was powered with turbines underneath the water. The mill also featured something that other mills did not: a 16-horsepower boiler to heat the mill during the cold Missouri winters.
In the 13 years it took Hodgson to build the mill, he also built a general store, post office, Boy Scout camp, family homes, and a number of other buildings. The mill was more than a place where grain was ground into flour. It was a gathering place where neighbors came to visit and gossip and where children played in the nearby fields. It was a cornerstone of the community.
The tradition of the mill as a gathering place continued over the years. During the early part of the last century, every year on the day before Thanksgiving the mill would host a turkey shoot where underprivileged people were given the opportunity to shoot a Thanksgiving turkey. During the hot summer nights, the mill would host ice cream socials for the community. Ironically, during this time, the mill was seldom used as a mill.
In 1949, when most mills in the country were shutting down, a man named Fred Leach leased the mill and brought it back into full operation. Leach was a savvy businessman with a commitment to quality. He chose to package his products in small amounts to ensure freshness and advertised the fact,emphasizing that the mill’s grindstones preserved the nutrients in the grain. Business boomed and Leach took advantage of the mill’s scenic setting by turning Hodgson Mill into a tourist attraction complete with a gift shop and picnic grounds.
Today the mill no longer grinds grain. In 2000, it was restored, preserved, turned into a gift store that sells merchandise from local craftsmen and, as in the past, is now a place for visitors to relax, stroll, or picnic.
While the company Hodgson Mill was forced to move to larger, more state-of-the-art milling facilities due to growing demand for their quality products, the sense of community that has always surrounded the Hodgson Mill structure remains. A new 5000-square-foot visitor center is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013 in Illinois at the crossroads of Highway 57 and Interstate 70. The visitor center will include a History of Milling section, Baking and Education Center, and a Company Store that will sell high end cooking utensils and butcher blocks. They will also offer baking classes. It is even hoped that gluten-free baking classes will be held by top gluten-free personalities. According to Ray Martin, VP Sales & Marketing of Hodgson Mill, the new and interactive facility is sure to be a destination point for visitors.
After 125 years of milling stone ground, wheat-based products, Hodgson Mill entered the gluten-free marketplace in 2005 with their Apple Cinnamon Muffin Mix. Over time, the product line has increased to over 20 products. Hodgson Mill’s gluten-free products are produced in a separate state-of-the-art gluten-free environment. Their newest gluten-free products to hit supermarket shelves are Quinoa Brown Rice Blends made with organic quinoa and spices and all natural rice. The blends, which come in 5 flavors, are low sodium, low sugar, and ready in 15 minutes.
Following in the longstanding tradition of being a cornerstone of the community, Hodgson Mill is dedicated to keeping the spirit of community alive. They contribute to the performing arts, sponsor several races and hospital health and wellness events, and donate products to those in need, much like in the days of the turkey shoots on the grounds of the old mill.