I discovered Roth Milling Company when I used to go regularly
down to visit McConnell's Mill back in the early 1970's. One of the Park Rangers may have
told me about the mill, or I may have learned about it from one
of the Pennsylvania Miller's Association publications that listed
operating flour mills in the state. Roth Milling Company, I used
to buy their buckwheat flour and cream of buckwheat. I am not
sure if I have ever tried their corn meal because I love buckwheat
made into everything.
So I got to know the miller Paul W. Roth. I think that his
full name was Paul Walter Roth. His son owned the mill who was
Paul M. Roth , and I seem to think that "M" stood for
Madison. I forget now, what Paul's fathers name was, but it seems
like it was in the connection of the middle names. I was interested
in learning as much about mills that I could from Paul, and not
bits of information.
The mill had survived a fire at one time. I forget when now,
it seems like it was early in the 20th century, like 1910 to 1920.
If you go to the upper story of the mill you can seen the beams
and rafters that were charred in the fire that are still in place.
Paul was like a fifth generation miller whose family came from
England. He was a living glossary of milling terms used in England, which
are different that some of the ones used in America. Paul the
the miller and he ran the mill, dressed the millstones and went
fishing. He knew when to run the mill, and how much flour to make
so the boys could sack the flour. Then he would come back from
home or where ever he had gone off to make more flour. Paul would
talk about going fishing, and going home for a nap when he left
the mill. I never found his fishing, but I would never disturb
him by looking. I think that one of the bins had a glass inspection
window in it. So if Paul filled the bin up to the level where
the flour could be seen he know exactly how long it would take
the two young men to bag all of the flour inside of that bin.
Paul's son, Paul (different middle name) owned the mill. Paul
never really came out and said how his son came to own the mill.
I have the feeling that the mill may have been in his wife's name
(a common practice so you cannot be sued), and when she passed
away, it was in her will that the mill goes to their son. I never asked the details. It
was something that the other millers talked about at the Pennsylvania Millers Association
meetings, how Paul's son came to own his mill?
The miller or father Paul could take some old piece of machinery
like a three stand roller mill, clean it up, and it would work
better than new. His son (the other Paul) would say, "the
hell with that piece of old junk!" Then go off to buy some
expensive piece of new machinery out of a mill machinery catalog
that would never work as well as the old piece that (father) Paul
Paul hated to have his picture taken. I seem to remember that
Paul smoked a pipe at home. It was not unusual for me to arrive
at Paul's house, and leave for home well after dark.
They had the same setup as one of the mills that I worked in
had. The buckwheat was first ground into chop on a pair or stand
of roller mills, then sifted to sift out the buckwheat hulls that
are a non-digestable food product. They are mainly used to stuff
Japanese dolls, pillows, and garden uses. Then the buckwheat was
ground on a pair of millstones. The mill made a huge selection
of different sorts of flour, meal and mix products. You walked
into the mill and saw the different paper flour sacks hanging
across the open space of the mill, and just decide what to take
home. Paul said that they never made as much variety in the old
days before he took over being the miller.
Buckwheat is planted by the farmers in July and is ready for
harvest in October. The pinkish white flowers are pollinated by
the bees (which is where buckwheat honey comes from), and the
flowers then give way to these black triangular seeds. Buckwheat
is an herb, not a grain or grass, but it is used like a grain.
I remember Paul taking about in the old days, they used the
Dutch doors on one side of the mill to hoist sacks of grain into
the mill. So by the time that I started coming to the mill, they
were mainly used for light and air. Nobody knew as much about
the mill as Paul did.
When I would come to Prospect, if I did not find Paul at the
mill, I knew to look at Paul's house a couple blocks away from
the mill. You never knew what you would find when you came to
Paul's house. Sometimes the local college students would come
with their musical instruments and be playing concert in his home.
I think that Paul had a cat at home rather than any sort of dog.
Paul kept his old milling books at home because he left
them at the mill, his son might sell them or throw them out. They
were just something old and smelly to his son. The few times that
I was in the office of the Roth Milling Company, it was not a
typical miller's office because it was empty of books, magazines,
and other material connected to the miller's art. I would love
to go to Paul's house, and look at his milling books while Paul
talked, or the college kids played music.
A lot of our discussions was the theoretical science of flour
milling. One of the ones that I remember was on the relationship
of the diameter of the millstone to its output at 125 revolutions
per minute. A 42-46 inch diameter pair of millstones produce 300
pounds of ground grain per hour. A 48 inch diameter pair of millstones
produce 400 pounds of ground grain per hour. A 56 inch diameter
pair of millstones produce 500 pounds of ground grain per hour.
Speed (revolutions per minute), feed (of the grain into the stones),
texture of the grind (how course or fine the stones are grinding),
the amount of moisture (having the right amount of moisture in
the grain, tempering and conditioning), and the condition of the
millstones (how sharp is the millstone dress is, dull to sharp)
dress is a factor. The larger the diameter the more flour the
millstones will produce. However, there is a "point"
at which the diameter will become so great that the amount of
output will begin to suddenly crash! The largest diameter of a
pair of millstones that are still capable of grinding grain is
72 inches in diameter. The average diameter of a pair of millstones
up until the 1500's was 72 inches in diameter when the standard
diameter was established at 48 inches. Only in the very large
Dutch type windmills can you still find 72 inch diameter pairs
of millstones................It was then became my job until I
visited Paul the next time to to the math, and to make graphs
which would either support or disprove out theories.
I would also stop and visit Paul when I made trips to Pittsburgh,
either stopping one direction or the other. He would give sometimes
tours of the mill explaining what some of the devices in the mill
did, and how it came to be there. Sometimes this attracted other
people who joined in. Paul explained that he lined the chutes
with plastic pipe to make the health inspector happy. Stainless
steel or its equivalent, and plastic pipe is one of its equivalent.
Each State has its different health regulations about making
flour. In New York State all flour has to be enriched, no matter
if it modern made or stone ground. The roller milling system removes
12 natural nutrients from the wheat flour, and three artificial
chemicals are added which is called, "enrichment." Stone
ground flour does not have to be enriched because nothing is destroyed
or removed in the milling process. Never the less, in New York,
to sell corn meal, some mills label it as "Duck Food,"
because after all they can stop you from making corn bread, and
feeding it to your duck.
In Pennsylvania, the law says, that you cannot grind flour
and produce animal feed in the building. So at the Roth Milling
Company, they grind all grains inside of the mill the way they
have traditionally done with one exception. The ground grain for
animal feed is sent to an outside loading dock where there is
a barrel mixer, and the animal feed is actually produced, and
mixed outside of the facility. This is how the mill gets around
the Pennsylvania State Law.
I have forgotten exact dates. Somewhere I may have written
it down. I forget exactly when the mill was built. I seem to want
to say that there was a water powered mill near Prospect somewhere,
but it may have had no connection to the Roth Milling Company.
The first steam powered mill in the United States was built in
Pittsburgh in 1807, by the son of the man whose company was the
first to build and produce high-pressure steam engines, Oliver
Evans. The Columbia steam engine was built in Philadelphia, and
by the Mars Works, in Mars, Pennsylvania. Mars, Pennsylvania,
got it name not from the planet Mars, but from the Mars Works.
So it is not unusual for the Roth Milling Company to have been
built in Prospect independent from any water source for a great
number of years.
I remember Paul saying that there was once two mills in Prospect,
none of them water powered. There was a steam powered grist and
saw mill built in 1872 (the same year as McConnell's Mill) by
Martin & Roth. The mills changed ownership several times until
they were burned in October of 1880. Then there was the Ralston
Roller Mill built in 1882 as a stone buhr mill. The word "buhr"
usually means French millstones imported from France. They were
the best material ever found for grinding wheat and producing
white flour. The United States was the largest importer of French
millstones. There were more here than in France or anywhere else
in the world. In 1892, the buhrs were replaced by a three stands
of Case Roller Mills, and the gradual reduction process of flour
milling replaced the millstone method. This mill also operated
in connection with a saw mill. Paul told me where one of these
mills once stood, and I went that way past the site on my way
out of Prospect to Pittsburgh (on that trip). I usually traveled
in and out of Prospect by another direction. I visually remember
the site of where one of these mills once stood, and there was
no indication that a mill ever stood on the site.
Some of our conversation involved other mills in the area.
Paul told me about the Harrisville Roller Milling Company in the
Northern part of Butler County. I drove that way on my way home
to Edinboro, where I was living at the time. The mill was no longer
operating at that time, but it was still full of all of its machinery
flour sacks lay everywhere. There was also a wagon shed which
much have been used as truck building, and a storage building
that contained extra machinery, and flour sacks. I took pictures
as I did on all of my trips to Roth Milling Company. I was a really
neat looking mill, but when I drove past the mill a week later
in hopes to gain access to the inside of the mill, there was no
sign that a mill once stood on the site. The structure and everything
has been wiped off the face of the earth.
I first learned to dress millstones from an old miller named
"Paul Roth" I visited the mill years after his passing
and saw that the mill pick that he used was still laying next
to the millstones, perhaps where he last used it and laid it down.
It was homemade with a handle made from a piece of pipe. It had
a V-shaped piece of iron welded to the end to hold the mill pick
or bill. The pick was held in place with two U-bolts, as it rested
in the "V". The first time I heard that he was going
to dress his millstones, I arrived just after he had finished.
I was so disappointed, but nothing stopped me the next time. I
guess at the time I was so happy to be shown how to dress millstones,
I didn't think about how working with a metal handled tool was
no fun; however, that is where the gloves came in. I soon realized
that you needed the weight of the tool to help do the work. It
is the weight of the tool that does all of the cutting, and it
is never used like a hammer handle to strike the stone. I learned
that would quickly kill your wrist.
When I last went by the mill (1990), and learned he had died
5 years before, I looked at the pair of millstones now taken apart
which had been used to grind sifted buckwheat chop into buckwheat
flour. The surface of the two millstones were nearly smooth with
only faint traces of furrows on them. Obviously, no one had dressed
them since Paul. I asked Paul's son, Paul if he needed someone
to dress the millstones, and he said that they ground fine!
A lot of my visits to Roth Milling Company was when it was
cold. The ground buckwheat from the fall though the winter. They
did not grind too much during the warm summer months. I think
that they ground corn on an attrition mill. I know that it was
a separate process than what was used to make buckwheat flour.
Still working at the mill when I last visited it in 1990, was
a red haired man, who I remember was a young man with red hair
and a reddish complexion who was one of the two boys who sacked
flour for Paul the miller. The flour would cover his reddish hair,
and skin along with his clothing. So in time he looked like an
elf or pixie who worked in the mill when the miller was at home
sleeping. It was the same person who in 1990 looked very different
putting on a great deal of weight over the years, but his basic
features gave away the person that I remember working in the mill
as a young man.
I have been so glad to hear that the gem of an old mill has
survived this many years without the loving care that the old
miller Paul used to give it. I have seen a lot of old mills in
Western Pennsylvania, and used to take a lot of photos of them
30 to 40 years ago. I also remember when there were a number of
them still in operation. Roth Milling Company may be the last
of those mills still capable of operating at 109 Lafayette Street at Maple Street, in Prospect, Butler County, Pennsylvania.
Growing up in Northwestern Pennsylvania, I (we) used to get
buckwheat flour from New Hope Mills, in Moravia, New York; Drake's
Mills, Drake's Mills, Crawford County, Pennsylvania; the Burnt
Cabins Mills, Fulton Country, Pennsylvania, and the Roth Milling
Company, Butler County, Pennsylvania.
Related Web Page: Millstone
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