The covered bridge, a 1994 replacement for a truss bridge built in 1935, is a whimsical gateway to the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, which was originally built in 1876 by George Woodham and his two sons, along with A.C. Reid.
Today, 140 years later, it is the only remaining grain grinding mill in Washington that has maintained its original structural integrity. The story of how that came to be features a dedicated group of volunteers who wanted to preserve an incredible piece of local history.
It was the mid-1870s when Woodham, a migrant miller, settled in the north Clark County area. The grist mill was originally built with a water wheel to power the milling machinery, taking advantage of Cedar Creek’s year-round water flow. It was named Red Bird Mill.
In 1886 that water wheel was replaced by a 16 horse power turbine made by The James Leffel & Co., a company that opened in 1862 and is still in business in Springfield, Ohio.
Farmer’s would make up to a two-day trek to bring wagonloads of grain to the mill where it would be ground into flour, cornmeal and animal feed.
“The structure itself is unusual in that relatively few buildings in Washington are of braced construction,” states the mill’s National Register of Historic Places nomination form. “It represents, too, the importance of water power in the early years of settlement. Without an abundant and rapidly flowing source of water, many saw and grist mills would have unfounded and therefore delaying the progress and altering of settlement. The Cedar Creek Grist Mill is a rare survivor of that early period.”
The mill changed hands over the years, but remained a hub for the community.
“The mill quickly became the center of activity where dances and musical entertainment were held frequently,” states a history of the building posted on the mill’s website.
In the 1950s the State Fisheries Department bought the property, removed an old dam and built a fish ladder.
Time and weather were not easy on the mill. The building became dilapidated and there was concern that it would crumble into the creek.
In 1961, the Fort Vancouver Historical Society leased the mill and led efforts to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which was approved in 1975. The group replaced the rotting foundation and stabilized the building.
By the 1980s, the mill had once again reached a point where it was in a state of disrepair due to age and vandalism. That’s when “The Friends of the Cedar Creek Grist Mill,” a non-profit corporation, was formed and its members stepped up to revitalize the mill.
“When we came here, the mill had been abandoned since the 1950s,” said Friends member Fred Schulz, during a recent Sunday afternoon tour of the mill. “The natural elements and the hoodlum elements had turned the building down. Some of the old-timers in the neighborhood that remembered when the mill was still running thought it was a shame to see it go down, so they started this organization The Friends of the Grist Mill. We set out to save the mill.”
Thanks to fundraising and volunteer efforts, the mill has been restored.
“Dedicated volunteers used broad axes and adzes to replace the posts and beams authentically,” the grist mill’s website states. “The women held bazaars and raffles to help raise badly needed funds for the massive restoration process. They also kept the men at the work parties fed.”
Today, the mill is described as a working museum, showing visitors the inside workings of a grist mill of the 1876 time period. Volunteers work the mill, and answer questions about the old-style milling process. It is open on weekends, and offers a series of special events throughout the year, including
On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, by 2 p.m. cars parked end-to-end lined up along most of one side of Grist Mill Road.
Shulz shared his wealth of grist mill the mill, surrounded by pulleys, belts, wheels, gears, grinders, hoppers.
“Some of you are probably wondering why a flour mill on the river doesn’t have a big water wheel on it, like the pictures in the calendars,” he said. “What we found out when we started to restore the mill was that these water turbines like we’ve got on this mill were developed in the late 1700s. By 1840 they were in production in the United States.
“[Leffel & Co. representatives] would come out the mill, measure your stream and see what your water power capacity was,” Schulz continued. “Then they would recommend what size turbine you needed to build. Then, they would build it for you, practically custom made. [The turbine] is quite easy to control, and it’s more efficient than the old water wheel, so they took over pretty fast. A lot of the mills that had been originally equipped with a water wheel, when they had to replace it or make heavy repairs they would convert it to a turbine.”
Cedar Creek Grist Mill
The mill, located at 43907 N.E. Grist Mill Road, in Woodland, is open throughout the year on Saturdays, from 1 to 4 p.m., and Sundays, from 2 to 4 p.m. It is closed weekdays, Easter, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Special events, held from 1 to 4 p.m., include:
Saturday, Aug. 27 – Cornbread Day
Saturday, Sept. 24 – Treat Day
Saturday, Oct. 29 – Apple Cider Pressing
For more information, call (360) 225-5832, or visit www.cedarcreekgristmill.org.
Other points of interest
For those driving to the grist mill from the Camas-Washougal area, other points of interest along the way include the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Cathlapotle Plankhouse in Ridgefield, Pomeroy Living History Farm in Yacolt, and Moulton Falls Winery in Yacolt, which is part of the North County Wine Trail. Several of the destinations are part of a 70-mile loop called the North Clark County Scenic Drive.
For more information, visit www.clark.wa.gov/scenicdrive.html.