The railroad brought an economic boom to Russellville at the end of the 19th century, leading to the development and expansion of several commercial enterprises.
But as the population around the community continued to grow, the need arose for a roller mill capable of turning locally produced grain into flour, prompting the city to make a generous offer to a farmer.
Jacob Lee Ritchie, one of the owners of Russellville Roller Mills, was born on June 21, 1864 on a farm near Prairie Home, the late Erna Raithel noted in a souvenir book printed in celebration of Russellville’s 150th anniversary.
She added: “For four years he rented a farm near his birthplace; he also had a threshing machine and a sawmill.
Ritchie demonstrated his propensity to expand his farming interests by purchasing a farm in Moniteau County and partnering with CA Edwards to build a mill in the small community of Huntsdale in Boone County, where they began processing the winter wheat flour.
The Russellville area gained a reputation for producing quality wheat, but since there was no roller mill in town, local farmers went to places such as the Flessa Flour Mills in the city center. town or the mill in Decatur (former community south of Russellville) to process their wheat.
In an effort to grow the local economy and help farmers process their wheat crops, business owners raised $ 1,000, donating it to Ritchie, along with free land, if he built. a roller mill in Russellville.
“He accepted the proposal and built a fifty barrel roller mill,” the 150th anniversary book revealed. “It quickly became necessary for him to increase the capacity of the mill.
The late LAB Leslie, former postmaster and historian of Russellville, wrote: “The water to run the mill was provided by a large pond which made all the youngsters happy because ice skating was allowed.
The mill was located on land at the corner of Jefferson Street and Marion Street, a short distance from the railroad. Several well-known local business owners were in attendance for the dedication, which took place around 1900. Michael Schubert, owner of a successful dealer in Russellville and Frederick Steffens, owner of a roller mill in Decatur, were in attendance for the event.
Ritchie soon brought in William Allen Stark, a native of the Russellville area and a farmer, and they quickly doubled the plant’s capacity. Stark had earned a reputation as a gifted carpenter and built a magnificent house under the mill which became the residence of Ritchie and his growing family.
Showing restlessness and continued zeal to explore other business opportunities, Ritchie and Stark sold the mill to August Sauer in 1904, who not only dealt with wheat, but also sold different types of flour. and animal feed. For a short period, 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 then bought a stake in the Eugene Mercantile Company.
“August Sauer at the Russellville Mill had a very busy week buying and handling wheat,” Russellville Rustler reported on August 13, 1909. The newspaper further explained, “There has been a constant line of wagons at home, and he has something like 3,000 bushels of wheat on hand at the mill.
In July 1914, Sauer dispelled the false rumor that he had sold the mill and encouraged the farmers to continue bringing in their wheat. In the following years, stakes in the plant were bought by Andy and Martin Doehla, both involved in the nearby Lohman plant.
Recognizing the need for better rail access for shipping their products, a scale was built near the depot in 1919, according to the book titled “The Heritage of Russellville in Cole County”.
Cole County Weekly Rustler reported that on July 2, 1926, the mill was targeted by criminals.
“The burglars entered the building by smashing a front window,” the newspaper reported. “Unable to open the large cash register, they took it with them to the old mines of Boaz where it was opened and looted and then abandoned.
Sales of flour to the Missouri State Penitentiary provided additional economic stability for the mill. Sadly, main owner August Sauer died in August 1929 in a truck accident near Tipton, resulting in his shares in the factory being transferred to Andy and Mike Doehla.
A drought in the early 1930s decimated much of the wheat crops throughout the Midwest and, combined with the financial hardships of the Great Depression, led to the plant’s closure in 1933.
John F. Morrow, a construction contractor from Russellville, dismantled the mill in the years following the Great Depression. The pond used for the steam engines used in the crushing was then emptied and filled with soil. The factory’s existence was definitively suppressed in April 2003, when the house built for the founder of the factory, Jacob Ritchie, was completely destroyed by fire.
Ritchie was a man of foresight and vision, seizing the opportunity to grow the initially successful business that became Russellville Roller Mills.
“The Illustrated Sketchbook and Directory of Jefferson City and Cole County” explained that he displayed a rare blend of skills that helped a young man leave home with just $ 150 to build a reputation for business success .
“Mr. Ritchie is a self-made man who is a natural mechanic,” the book reads. “His knowledge of machines and mechanisms and his practical ability to build is rarely found in a man with a practical business acumen and of a tireless industry. “
Jeremy P. Ämick writes a series of articles on the history of the Russellville area in honor of Missouri’s bicentennial.