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A History of the Reist Mill
by Glenn R. P. Atwell


    The origin of the Reist grist mill dates to the year 1821, when brothers-in-law Abram Long and John Reist Sr. built a stone mill. The mill was built on the property line between their two farms. They ran it together until 1827, when Long sold out to Reist and moved to Hamburg. There Long built a mill in Water Valley which was continued by his son Isaac.

    The mill was operated from 1827 by a series of professional resident master millers, Christian Ernst, John Wilhelm, David Shiesley, Jacob Wilhelm, and Peter Shiesley. In 1847 Christian Reist took charge of the mill and built the north part, which became the roller department. C. Reist operated the mill until 1850, and his millers were Mr. Metler, Simon Mangold, John Reist, Jr., John Long, Etron Heimberger and others. [Amherst Bee, hereafter AB, 30 Aug.1883, page 3, col. 3.]

    C. Z. Frick, Christian Root and others rented the mill for some time after 1850. A few years later Reuben Lintz tore down the stone part and put up the frame building, which became the custom and feed department adjoining the store house. Mr. Lintz, a native of Pennsylvania, was head miller for a number of years. (He was miller there in 1855, living in the miller’s house with his wife and nine children.) In 1858 Jacob and Daniel Reist took charge of the mill, by then known as the “Exchange Mills.” In 1865 the two brothers were living in the same two-family frame house.

Map of 1880 showing the new mill race from the dam on Ellicott Creek

A History of the Reist Mill

About the Author:


Mr. Glenn R. P. Atwell is a retired history teacher and founding member of the WNY Genealogical Society. His scholarly writings and knowledge of local history are second to none.


We thank Mr. Atwell for this contribution to our website for his time and his research into the history of the Reist Street Mill and properties using original sources.

    In 1869 the Reist brothers bought from David Graybiel the water power known as the forge property, on the main branch of Ellicott Creek, and with much labor and expense they built a new dam and connected both water courses together, thus adding ten feet more fall, making a head of twenty-three feet, and thus providing a steady and usually reliable source of power. They later added sixty-four horse power from two Leffel double turbine water wheels, in place of the wooden water wheels, besides steam power.

Map of 1866 showing the Reist grist mill, residence, sawmill, and miller’s residence.

“Elm St.” was a proposed addition that was never made. The new Reist dam was built

across the creek at the forge, shown on the east side of Ellicott Creek.

    In 1876, John Reist Sr., who had always remained owner of the mill, sold the property to his sons, Jacob, Daniel and Elias, who changed the name of the mill to the Reist Milling Company. Elias Reist, who had been in Hamburg from 1862 running the mills there under the company name of Long & Reist, returned to Williamsville in 1876 and took an active role in remodeling the Reist mill into a roller system.


    From 1876, the business steadily increased and, to keep up with demand, they added a 40 h.p. engine and boiler (made by Dellew & Popple of Dunkirk) in 1880. [“Another Improvement,” AB 18 Nov.1880] They added a new engine house the following year and were running on steam by mid-summer. [Buzzings, AB, 30 June 1881, and “Milling,” AB 21 July 1881.] This provided them with plenty of power and allowed them to satisfy their customers at all times, even when water was low. The next year they added two sets of rollers, one smooth and one corrugated, and in 1882 they added two more sets of corrugated rollers. [“Improvements,” AB 26 Oct.1882] The following year they added four sets of corrugated and one of smooth. This made a total of nine reductions, for an extremely fine product. They also had four run of stone, one of which was used for grinding middlings. The rollers were all of the latest technology, the corrugated ones were of the Stevens type and bought from the John T. Noye Manufacturing Company of Buffalo. [Buzzings, AB 2 Aug.1883]

    Their bolting arrangements consist of ten flour reels, five scalping reels, one

bran duster, and one upright centrifugal flour bolt. They also have a complete

cleaning arrangement to scour and brush the wheat before it goes to the rolls,

consisting of five air separations and screens, one New Era grader and scourer,

and one California brush finishing machine. They have three George T. Smith

purifiers and automatic dust collectors. Nearly all the machinery was purchased

of the John T. Noye Manufacturing Company, who also very liberally assisted

(especially their foreman, Ira B. Wescott) in giving them all the information

required in remodeling their mill to the roller system. [AB, 30

Aug.1883, page 3, col. 3.]

    During this time, they also enlarged their storage capacity and put in two circular register spouts, so that they could spout the grain to and from every grain bin in the mill. A Bowsher motion indicator and Eureka flour packer have also been added.


    John H. Kline was the main millwright, “a practical mechanic, millwright and engineer, and had charge of a large portion of the work.” [ibid.]


    When the remodeling and modernization were complete, the company was ready to run the mill to full capacity, which was 100 barrels of flour every 24 hours, not including the rye, buckwheat, corn, and animal feed which were separate from the exchange and flouring department. This custom service ran as high as 40,000 bushels per year. They will continue their exchange business on wheat, and ground all rye, buckwheat, corn and feed grists on stone. Farmers would draw their grain to the mill, the company would perform the grinding, and the farmers would receive their flour as payment, the company keeping a portion to sell.


    During the time of the modernization, the company also opened a store in Buffalo, at 82 Main Street, which was managed by their new partner, Charles Sigel Jr., a brother-in-law of Elias Reist. There they sold their popular “Golden Eagle” and other brands of fine flour.

    All of this modernization and new equipment placed the company under a heavy burden of debt. Elias Reist moved to Hamburg in 1885 where he managed the mill there. For several years the business flourished, but then, in 1886, disaster struck. The mill in Hamburg, a substantial brick structure built in 1856, was totally destroyed in a disastrous fire. The loss to Long & Reist amounted to a staggering $50,000. [“Flour Mill Burned,” AB 20 May 1886] Fire was a constant threat in gristmills; the flour dust in the air was highly combustible and would virtually explode when there was a source of ignition and even the most advanced fire fighting systems of that era were useless against it. Such would later be the fate of the Dodge Roller Mills on Ellicott Creek when, in June 1894, Henry W. Dodge died attempting to save his mill; his body was found near a hose fed by a water tank high in the building. At least there were no fatalities in the Hamburg fire.


    For a time, Long & Reist attempted to supply a store in Hamburg with flour made in Williamsville. [“Notice,” The (Hamburg) Independent, 9 July 1886.] Eventually the mill there was rebuilt. (Another fire there, five years later, was controlled and the loss of all but $500 or 600 in grain was covered by insurance. Buffalo Express, 22 Jan.1891, page 6.)


    On 15 January 1889, Jacob, Elias, and Daniel Reist, doing business as the “Reist Milling Company” were forced to file for bankruptcy. Their principal creditor was John H. Kline, the millwright. They also owed their employees their wages and Elizabeth Gabriel repayment of a loan of $50. [“Millers Assign,” AB 17 Jan.1889.] Suit was also filed against the firm by Willis B. Messer of Lancaster, Pa., on 21 November 1889 in the special term of supreme court in Buffalo, [Buffalo Express, 22 Nov.1889, page 8] and the following day a judgment was rendered in favor of Musser [sic] [Buffalo Express, 23 Nov.1889.] The mill and associated real estate was sold by the county sheriff at public auction to Messer or Musser on 13 January 1890 for $2,000. [“Reist Mill Property Sold,” AB 16 Jan.1890.] By the end of the month, the mill was ready for business again; Jacob Reist, who made the announcement in the Bee, appears to have been running the mill for its new out-of-town owner. [Buzzings, AB 30 Jan.1890]. By the next month, the mill was doing custom grinding of rye and buckwheat on stone and wheat on their rollers. Orders as small as ten bushels were encouraged. [AB 19 Feb.1891.]


    The Reist mill was sold by Musser on 25 February 1891 to Joseph Kuhn of Williamsville. The transaction consisted of the mill and 21 acres of land. Musser did very well out of the deal, turning a $2,000 investment into a $3,500 profit in just over a year! [“Sale of Reist Mills,” AB 26 Feb.1891.]


    Kuhn, a successful local farmer and businessman, set about his new business by modernizing it thoroughly. He announced that “[g]rists will be ground to order or exchanged for flour, and all orders will receive prompt and careful attention. Farmers and the public generally are cordially invited to visit and inspect this new mill.” [“The Kuhn Flour Mill,” AB 2 July 1891.] He ran the mill successfully, but only lived about two and a half years after purchasing it, dying in October 1893. After his death, the situation with the mill seems to have drifted. During a spring flood in 1902, eighty-two feet of the dam was torn away, causing $2,000 in damage. [“High Water,” AB 6 Mar.1902.] Eventually, in 1903, the Kuhn heirs sold the mill and property to the Holy Family Home and the last of the Kuhn family moved to Buffalo to live with their married sister Mrs. Leo Daniel. [Buzzings, AB 19 Nov.1903] A new era had begun.


    Meanwhile, John Blocher, the wealthy Buffalo shoe manufacturer, philanthropist, and former local boy made good, had become interested in providing homes for “deserving elderly” in Williamsville. In 1902, he was to establish the Blocher Homes, under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, but he also wished to provide for the Catholic elderly. In 1899 he offered 100 acres of the former Reist farm to the Sisters of St. Francis for a home for the aged. [“Mr. Blocher’s Offer,” AB 27 July 1899]. This 100 acre farm, together with the later addition of the 21 acres from the Reist mill, formed the nucleus of the Holy Family Home grounds.


    The former miller’s residence, an eight room house, was moved and made into an addition of the former farm house in the summer of 1904, and the old mill was converted into a cow barn at the same time. [Buzzings, AB 15 Sept.1904].

The following description of the home and grounds will be of interest.


Picturesque Location.

….

    A few miles outside of Buffalo city limits is the quiet, unpretentious little village

of Williamsville. Skirting this peaceful hamlet is a farm of one hundred and

twenty acres laid out by the Hand of Nature in plots nearly circular, around which

winds a picturesque stream overhung by giant oaks and modest willows, making

it a fairy land of beauty. This charming spot, the well-known non-Catholic

philanthropist, Mr. John Blocher of Buffalo, donated to the Sisters of St. Francis,

as a site on which to erect a Home for the aged and infirm, similar to the St.

Francis Asylum, Buffalo. Lack of funds has so far prevented the Sisters from

fully carrying out Mr. Blocher’s intentions, but pending an increase in their

finances, they have added a two-story frame building to the house left on the farm

by Mr. Blocher. In its present capacity the Home accommodates fifty inmates

besides five Sisters who minister to their wants.


    Towards the erection of this building many of the benevolent and kind-

hearted citizens of Williamsville contributed their mite of labor as in olden times.

Near the entrance to the farm is a pretty little stone grotto, which greatly

enhances the beauty of the place, and which was erected through the generosity of

Monsignor Adolph. [AB 29 Apr.1909]

The Reist Mill (photograph from Amherst Museum)

--Picture, from Donohue, Rev. Thomas, D.D., “History of the Catholic Church in Western New York,

Diocese of Buffalo,” Buffalo, 1904, page 98.

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