The Southside Neighborhood General Mills

In our research and interviewing, we are constantly discovering new and fascinating stories about the people who have lived and are currently living in our Southside Neighborhood.  We are also fortunate to have many of these people sharing artifacts with us and giving us “leads” to even more and more impressive folk who have been very influential not only in Johnson City but also in national and international circles.  It is becoming an all consuming “hobby” and one that we want to begin to share with you so you, too, can become as excited as we are.  Maybe you can uncover some new and intriguing stories to share – or maybe you already have one!

The first of many stories to come involves the Model Mill and is told to us by Anna and Sara Thomas, 409 West Pine Street.  During the depression years, their Mother, Mrs. Frank Thomas, was trying to help bring in some extra money to support her family.  (Many women in the era were trying to help keep body and soul together.)  Mrs. Thomas began baking cakes and selling them to friends and neighbors.  During the Christmas holiday alone, she would sell over 100 cakes.  She used flour made at the model mill.  The manager of the mill heard (by way of the “grapevine”) that one of her cakes, a white cake with white frosting, was a particular favorite of the customers.  One day, he came to her house and offered her $15 for the rights to her recipe, and she sold it to him!  He went right back to the mill and proceeded to have his newly acquired recipe printed on all the smaller bags of Red Band Flour.  At that time, the Model Mill distributed it’s products to many surrounding states.  It even had two of it’s own trucks that delivered to the small country stores such as the ones you would find in the coal mining towns of Southwest Virginia.


The Model Mill is a whole story in itself – one that becomes more intriguing with each new discovery!  It was built by George L. Carter in 1909 and started into operation that very same year.  We have found that, in addition to flour, they also produced feed, seed and meal.  Every batch of flour was tested in the Mill kitchen thereby enabling Mr. Carter to use his patented slogan “Kitchen Tested”.  It was such a good slogan that Washburn-Crosby Mills, a huge and well-established business, in 1931, paid him the grand sum of $1 million for the Model Mill in order to obtain the slogan and the right to use it as their own!  In 1933, General Mills bought Washburn-Crosby Mills and continued to operate the Model Mill under that name until 1937 when they changed the name to General Mills.

In 1946, General Mills added a household appliance division to it’s sales line and produced kitchen appliances such as a toaster, a mixer, an iron skillet, a popcorn popper, a deep fat fryer and a pressure cooker.  It is very probable that these appliances were sold commercially in such stores as Carder Hardware in the 100 Block of West Market Street in Johnson City.  They closed this division in 1951 and ceased making the small appliances.  It’s an interesting fact that these appliances were also given to the Mill employees as part of their safety awards program.  At the conclusion of any safety campaign, employees qualifying for the award could choose from 3 or 4 different appliances offered.  We learned this from Cline Holtzsclaw, miller for 42 years at the Mill.  Occasionally we will display artifacts depicting the scope of operation of the Model Mill and how it related to the everyday life of many people – not only locally, but who knows – even worldwide!  We encourage you to come to our Southside Neighborhood Monthly Meetings to learn more.

 

Posted on June 6th, 2008 by Ken Harrison in History

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1. STEVE LAPOINTE - April 3, 2009

I RECENTLY SAW THE SIGN IN FRONT OF THE OLD MILL ON WALNUT STREET. I CALLED THE CHAMBER AND THEY SAID THE MILL WOULD BE RAZED THIS SUMMER OF 2009.THEN I ASKED IF PERSONS COULD GO IN AND TAKE PHOTOS.THEY SAID THE JOHNSON CITY PRESS DID A WALK THRU AND MADE VIDEOS. THE ELCTRIC IS OFF AND THEY DONT WANT PEOPLE IN THERE IN THE DARK…..,YET.IN MY OPINION THAT MILL IS THE ONLY BIT OF UNIQUE ARCHITECTURE IN JOHNSON CITY. THE DATE ON IT IS 1919 AND THAT ALONE SHOULD GIVE IT PROTECTION FROM THE STATE HISTORICAL COMMISSION FROM BEING TORN DOWN. LAND IS EXPENSIVE IN DOWNTOWN AND NOT MUCH IS THERE TO USE BUT THE DOZENS OF TRASHY LITTLE SHOPS ALONG WALNUT WILL ALSO SOMEDAY BE GONE AS LAND BECOMES MORE VALUABLE AND THE MILL IS THE ONLY STRUCTURE WITH REAL HISTORICAL VALUE ALONG WALNUT. I THINK THE CHAMBER SHOULD BE UNDER STATE PRESERVATION GUIDELINES AND PRESERVE RARE AND UNIQUE STRUCTURES.SO MANY NICE BUILDINGS HAVE BEEN RAZED IN JOHNSON CITY AND FOR WHAT?? ANOTHER FAST FOOD? ISNT ANYONE GOING TO START DOING ARCHEOLOGICAL SURVEYS AT CONSTRUCTION SIGHTS? ALSO SOME OF THE EQUIPMENT IN GENERAL MILL SHOULD BE PRESERVED IN MUSEUMS AND NOT TRASHED FOR SCRAP.DOES THAT MAKE SENSE? THANKS

2. STEVE LAPOINTE - May 10, 2009

ALL OR PART OF THE MILL MIGHT BE PRESERVED AND USED FOR A MUSEUM.JOHNSON CITY NEEDS A REAL MUSEUM THAT DISPLAYS EVERY SORT OF ARTIFACT AND NOT JUST ART OR MEDICAL STUFF. IMAGINE IN 1911.THE MODEL MILL WAS A HUB OF BUSINESS ACTIVITY AND PROBIBLY BUSIER THAN THE DOWNTOWN. THE NEWSPAPERS IN JOHNSON CITY WOULD HAVE LOTS OF DETAILS ABOUT THE MILL BUT IT WOULD BE JOB TO FIND THE ARTICLES. I HOPE THE COMMUNITY RALLYS TO CARFULLY STUDY ALL ASPECTS OF THE ISSUE PRIOR TO ANY HARM BEING DONE TO THE ORIGIONAL STRUCTURE.THIS ORIGIONAL STRUCTURE CAN BE SEEN IN PHOTOS OF THE MILL WHEN IT HAD 5 SILOS AND NOT 6,ONE WAS ADDED ABOUT 1917. A CLINCHFEILD MAP WITH THE ORIGIONAL STRUCTURE CAN BE FOUND AT THE ARCHIVE ROOM ON CAMPUS MAP BOX 408.

3. s. lapointe - May 19, 2009

forgive this last letter to those who might be concerned.the model mill may have many vintage things fixtures,tiles,brass and copper objects ,turn wheels,dials etc from the 1910 period. with preserving history in mind and to do justice to the grand old mill a good set of photos might be taken inside . so many unique things of the 1910 period could at least be saved on film perhaps for a future book? also could there be boxes of ‘discarded’ papers with alot of historic value?

4. steve lapointe - September 13, 2010

gosh,sad to see im the only one on this comment board=its sept 2010 and the city plans to demolish the old mill. its sad that such a true historic resourse cant be spared from the money making machine of the city’s commerce. part of the mill should be kept becaus eof its unique architecture and its connection to mr carter. lots of buildings sit abandoned in johnson city that the chamber could nest in and those wont survive either if they cant use them to generate revenue. the old mill belongs to all the community,its part of the early rr history of the area and farming. a wing of the mill could be used for a museum. there are so many people in johnson city who would donate things if they had a museum to give to. jonesborouh has barns of relics and nowhere to display them either.

5. Karin O'Brien - August 23, 2011

This would be a great building for a fine dining restaurant, something with dinner and dancing like the old days. I wish someone would buy it and restore it.

6. Debby Millar Wolfe - October 21, 2013

It is definitely a historic landmark and could possibly be restored as a museum and tourist attraction by the city. With advertising it would pay for itself over time and provide employment for college students. Food for thought.