Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, January 10, 2002, pg. 9
On E. Cass St. next to the Cass St. bridge is a little park that was built on the foundations of one of Albion’s prominent 20th century structures, the White Mill. One of Albion’s greatest natural resources has been the Kalamazoo River, something which pioneers settlers recognized right away. Numerous water-powered flour and sawmills were constructed along “raceways” that were dug to harness the water power in the days before electricity was invented. Even after electricity arrived, water power was used to generate some of that electricity in town.
The White Mill was erected in 1876 by Manley Amsden (1831-1912) and J. William Clark to replace the Peabody/Gothic Mill upstream that had burned on June 22, 1876. It utilized the waters of the Gothic millrace, which tapped the east fork of the Kalamazoo River at “Dutchtown” on S. Hannah St. The White Mill is best remembered as pictured in the classic photograph of the great Flood of 1908, where the raging waters of the Kalamazoo River are shown receding from the top of the Cass St. bridge, and the Mill appears in the distance. The structure was painted white, and the painted message on each end of the building stated “CITY ROLLER CUSTOM MILLS.”
The White Mill was known throughout southern Michigan for its Victor brand flour, a favorite of housewives for breads and pastries. Every neighborhood grocery store in Albion handled this brand, and at times a dozen men were employed at the mill grinding wheat into flour. Later, whole wheat pancake and muffin mixes were specialities of the Mill.
After a series of ownerships, the Mill was purchased by Canadian miller Louis R. Key in 1926. He operated it until his death in 1946 along with his son Lloyd. The firm was known as L. R. Key & Son. Lloyd Key subsequently modernized the Mill equipment, built two silos with a capacity of 10,000 bushels, and added an extension to the Mill for storing an additional 5,000 bushels. The mill continued to use Albion’s original resource: water power. It was used for not only for turning the wheel which ground the grain, but also to generate “in-house” electricity for lights and other modern equipment. A diesel engine was installed in 1954 as a standby in the event of a water power failure.
Following the death of Lloyd Key in 1956, his widow Gladys continued to operate the Mill for a short period of time. She was unable to find a buyer however, and closed the Mill on August 24, 1957. With its closing, the era of water power in Albion ended. The old White Mill stood vacant for seventeen years, until arson heavily damaged the upper portion of the structure on May 25, 1974.
The property was subsequently purchased by the Albion Civic Foundation the following August, and the building was demolished in September, 1974. Work began at the site in 1979 on the construction of a park in memory of Foundation founder Thomas T. Lloyd, who had passed away in 1978. Wise planners were careful to utilize the stone foundation of the old mill as part of the park development. The split-level park was developed with a sun deck overhang and a canoe landing, in keeping with the river development theme. Lloyd Park was opened in September, 1980 during the Festival of the Forks. For many years small concerts were held here once a week during the lunch hour, entitled, “Lunch at the Lloyd.”
From the Archives this week we present a picturesque view of the White Mill as it appeared in 1953, with its ediface reflecting on the millrace below. The scene looks north and is taken from the old footbridge which onced crossed the waters at the end of Porter St. On the right are the two new silos. On the left are trees which helped hold together the small strip of land that separated the raceway from the main Kalamazoo River. A railroad spur track once crossed the waters to service the Albion Elevator, but it was removed in December, 1948. The raceway shown here was filled in in March, 1965 and the Riverside Apartments were constructed on the site.
White Mill, 1953
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic