| It is now believed that something like half a million people headed west from the 1840s through the Civil War. The so-called Great Migrations lasted until the coming of the railroads. The Oregon Trail ended in Oregon City and settlers moved south and some people moved north into Washington Territory.
George Woodham, a migrant miller, settled in the area north of Fort Vancouver. In 1876 Woodham along with his sons, built the grist mill named at that time the Red Bird Mill. Traditionally mills were powered by water, and the Cedar Creek had a year round water flow that met the requirement for a water-powered mill.
The people who settled in the area where the mill was built were farmers. They raised crops and livestock. Wheat and other grains were grown in the plains and prairies north of Fort Vancouver. Wagonloads of grain brought to the mill would be ground into flour, cornmeal and animal feed. A wagonload of grain from Brush Prairie would be a two-day trip. The family would camp on the flat area across from the mill and start home the next day.
A dam was built to form the millpond that fed water to the flume to supply the mill. The dam was damaged by high water flow and floating wood debris the first winter. Unable to keep the dam repaired, and with meager profits, George Woodham moved to Centralia in 1879, taking his equipment with him.
Mike Lynch bought the mill but it sat for seven years until Gustave Utter leased it in 1888. At that time a log dam was constructed about eighty feet upstream. Utter built a flume and installed the Leffel turbine, which is still in use today.
Washington was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state on November 11, 1889. That was 13 years after the Cedar Creek gristmill was built.
The mill quickly became the center of activity where dances and musical entertainment were held frequently. Milling fees were often shares of grain, so Utter raised hogs, which could be sold for badly needed cash. By 1901, Utter couldn't keep the mill operating profitably.
Gorund Roslund purchased the mill in 1905 but wasn't able to get the mill in operation until 1909. He added a shingle mill to the rear of the original structure. By 1912 logging was booming and a machine shop was desperately needed. Victor, one of Roslund's sons, was a mechanic and turned the entire lower floor into a machine shop. Victor made parts for the Merwin Dam on the Lewis River that are still in use today.
Soon the shed on the front of the mill was added as a blacksmith shop. Elmer, another of Roslund's sons, operated it.
Victor remained a bachelor and turned the upper floor into an apartment. Once again musical entertainments were common occurrences in the building. Victor died in the late 1950's. The State Fisheries Department bought the property, removed the old dam and built a fish ladder.
Time and weather took its toll. The mill was falling apart, and in danger of falling into the creek. Leased by the Fort Vancouver Historical Society in 1961, they had the mill listed on the United States register of historical place, replaced the rotting foundation, and stabilized the building.
By 1980, the old grist mill had suffered from both weather and vandals. A group of local residents decided to save the historical structure and formed "The Friends of the Cedar Creek Grist Mill", a non-profit corporation.
Dedicated volunteers used broad axes and adzes to replace the posts and beams authentically. To get water into the mill with the dam gone, the flume was extended 650 feet up the creek to a point where the water from the creek flows directly into the intake. A dam was no longer needed.
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.
The group met its major goal on November 11, 1989, when it ground wheat in celebration of Washington State's Centennial.
The Cedar Creek Grist Mill is a working museum, showing visitors the inside workings of a grist mill of the 1876 time period. It is the oldest building is the state of Washington that is still doing the job that it was built to do 126 years ago.
A covered bridge spanning Cedar Creek was completed in 1994 to replace the old bridge that was falling apart. The original bridge was covered but the barn roof became rotted and had to be removed. The original deck was kept in use until it had to be replaced in 1994.
Many businesses and individuals have donated materials and cash to the project and are still needed for ongoing restoration. The Cedar Creek Grist Mill National Historic Site continues to draw visitors from all over the world. School field trips and senior tours are scheduled for weekdays and the mill is open to visitors on weekends. You can watch the millers grind grain the way it was done in 1876, and take home a sample. Donations are appreciated.
Our volunteers work the mill, answer questions about the old style milling process and welcome visitors from around the globe. If you are interested in becoming a member, see become a member.
Mill year 1910
Mill restoration in process