The mill is located in Oakesdale, Washington, and had originally been built in the East in 1862. In 1890, J.G. Porter hired a crew to dismantle it, piece by piece; load it on rail cars, along with the milling equipment that was inside; and transport it to Oakesdale, where a steam plant,
warehouse, and crib elevator were added. Joseph’s grandfather bought the mill in 1907, converting its source of power from steam to electricity and turning the attached steam plant into a residence where the next two generations of Barrons would live and work, milling flour and animal feed.
Joseph shuttered the four-story mill in 1960 after he’d begun milling organic flour in his garage across the creek on
a newer, more efficient mill—the mill that he and I used to mill the grains and legumes I needed to start my food business. Between the two of us, we continued to keep his four-story historic mill clean and in good condition, charging busloads of tourists coming in from Seattle an entrance fee. One of my jobs was to make and serve cornbread at the beginning of our guided tours and create placards for the equipment, describing what role each piece played in the milling of grains.
So, when Joseph told me his stamina was waning, I told him I would take care of his historic mill. He nodded but said nothing. For a month or so after, Joseph sifted through potential buyers as carefully as he sifted flour.
A man of few words, in the end, he said, “I think you’ll do.”
I cobbled together the money he wanted for the mill and the land it sits on in the middle of Oakesdale, approximately 1.3 acres, and with help from his daughter (his only child, who is now deceased), who loaned me some of the money, the mill became mine. Twenty-six years later, it’s my turn to sift through potential buyers.
Several months ago, with help from my daughter, I listed it for sale.
Initially, the city of Oakesdale said they were interested in buying it and turning it into a community center. An engineer they had look at it said the bones and foundation of the mill were still good, but I already knew that. I loved the idea of a community center, but after several months, they
came to terms with the ongoing work of raising money for such a longterm endeavor and got cold feet. In preparation for freeing up room inside so that it could become a community
center or a home or an event center, three farm hands carefully dismantled and removed select pieces of equipment, transporting them to my farm.
I was excited when a couple contacted us wanting to turn it into a home, where it sits, that would also house their businesses—an architectural firm and a photography studio—but they decided moving to Oakesdale wasn’t right for them.
In my grander moments, I still consider sticking to my plan of turning it into an event center here at my farm, but I keep thinking I should at least put it out there for someone else’s dream, maybe helping destiny play its hand.