How the two millstones got from France to this small community west of Lewiston in the 1870s remains a mystery.
Weighing in at roughly 9,000 pounds each, the stones have been holding up a corner of an historic flour mill for the past 127 years. Up until a week ago, they had not seen daylight since President Grover Cleveland was in the White House.
“Nobody knows exactly how they got here,” said Pastor Jon Van Vogt, owner of the Pataha Flour Mills near Pomeroy. “They had to have been brought here in some dramatic way. They are such a treasure and I’m so happy to see them out.”
The stones recently were carefully winched from beneath the mill by Clarkston contractor Ralph Montague during a renovation project. Montague was in the process of repairing and reinforcing the foundation when the buried rocks came to light, Van Vogt said.
The stones were part of the intricate milling process and used from 1878 until about 1889 to grind grain into flour. After a decade, five machines replaced the huge chunks of granite.
The inner workings of the stones are still intact, which is rare in this day and age, Van Vogt said. It appears they were cut by hand and loaded with lead to increase their weight.
“We are building an outdoor display case for them so visitors can experience another taste of history here,” he said.
From its antique camera collection to a Wurlitzer organ, the mill is a haven for history buffs. Flour sacks, handwritten ledgers and unique milling machinery are part of the four-story tour, along with an old-time photo parlor.
Van Vogt and his wife, Louise, bought the old flour mill in 1998. It had no electricity or insulation when the Garfield County couple and their five kids began transforming the building into a museum, restaurant, special event venue and church.
Located at 50 Hutchens Hill Road, the mill has become a popular tourist stop and local gathering place. Weddings, funerals, governmental meetings and family reunions are often held here, and a fellowship service is conducted at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday. Quilts are folded on the pews so visitors can stay warm and cozy on winter days.
“We love it,” Van Vogt said. “The best thing about the mill is the neat people we meet.”
Homemade food is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Dinner is available from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturdays. No prices are on the menu because everything is donation based.
“Some can give little. Some can give more, but God’s always faithful,” the pastor said. “Louise is the main cook.”
At one time, Garfield County had five flour mills, but Pataha is the last one standing. Also known as the Houser Mill, the establishment was famous for its XXX brand flour until it closed in 1943.
All of the original milling equipment was intact when the Van Vogt family assumed ownership and turned it into a nonprofit outreach center and museum. The Shepherd Foundation has helped with funding for renovations at the mill, including $10,000 for the recent work on the foundation.
In addition to giving folks a glimpse into the past and a home-cooked meal, Van Vogt said the main goal is to make visitors feel welcome and loved.
“This is our way of planting seeds,” he said.
Want to know more?
More information about hours of operation and special events can be found online at patahaflourmills.com or by calling (509) 843-3799.