Union County Alliance Flouring Mill - La Grande Milling Company, La Grande Oregon
Grain growing has been important in the area since the mid-1860s, when much of the flour was sold to feed the gold miners in Baker County. More wheat was grown than could be sold as flour before the railroad came, so it was fed to hogs, and the hogs made into bacon for the miners. In 1884 the Oregon Short Line connected the Union Pacific from Omaha to the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company Line up the Columbia. "Last spike" ceremonies were held at Huntington, near the Oregon-Idaho border. Railroad construction began in the valley of the Grande Ronde in 1882 and opened a new market for whole grain wheat, flour and hogs.
Flour mills were essential to be the viability of pioneer communities. The farmers needed to have their grain made into flour for their own use and they needed to sell the surplus in order to purchase other supplies. Naturally, they would trade in the town nearest the mill. It is no accident that the first flour mill in the valley and the incorporation of the city of La Grande occurred in the same year, 1865.
In 1892 the town of La Grande was without a mill, though the original 25-barrel-per-day mill was still operating for "many years" after 1874. So when the Union County Farmers Alliance made known their desire to have their own mill, the La Grande Chamber of Commerce provided inducements to have the new mill located in their own community. Dr. M.F. Honan donated the property and the chamber of commerce promised "a 10% cash bonus on the amount expended on the plant."
For the Farmers Alliance this was not just another mill but its own mill. The objective of the Alliance was to discuss farmers' problems and develop solutions. Members felt one problem was that private mills were charging too much for their services and the farmers weren't getting a good price for their grain. Eighteen ninety-two was an election year, and it is worth noting that the secretary of the Alliance was also the chairman of the People's Party. Although the Alliance was purported to be an educational and not political organization, its membership generally merged with the Populist movement.
The enterprise formed by the incorporators of the Union County Alliance Flouring Mill Company was taken over by the La Grande Milling Company in 1902 and was operated by the latter until the property was acquired by the Union County Grain Growers in 1974. The La Grande Milling Company traded in livestock, chiefly sheep and hogs, from neighboring Wallowa County which the company loaded at the mill and shipped by rail to the East. The La Grande Milling Company apparently was responsible for converting the operation to electric power, for shortly after the turn of the century, the mill's original steam or gasoline engine was removed, and the existing electric motor was installed. The 60 H.P. unit was first patented on March 14, 1893; the last patent date was December 2, 1902. A new electrical power plant and water system were under construction in La Grande at about the time the mill was completed.
Historic photographs of the complex ranging in date from the 1890s to 1930 reveal that the single-story gable-roofed wing on the north side of the mill building was in place by 1900. Lean-tos on both mill building and elevator apparently began as porches in the period 1911-1913 and were eventually enclosed. A shed addition on the west side of the grain elevator appears to date from about 1930.
A prominent landmark in the townscape, the mill bears witness to the longstanding importance of grain growing to the local economy. The elevator was used for grain storage as recently as 1977. The mill was used for flour manufacture until about 1948, and for warehouse purposes thereafter. During the sixty-five years of its full utilization, the mill provided a significant payroll in the community.
In 1977 the mill complex passed from traditional use into two successive new ownerships, and an adaptive use rehabilitation was planned.
The owners rebuilt a mansard roof on the mill in July 1984, but stopped further renovation because of lack of funds.
Early in the morning on May 21st, 1986 a fire broke out at the mill and completely destroyed it.