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Area mill operated 90 years

Staff writer

The Excelsior flour mill 1.5 miles south of Marion was in operation from 1871 until 1962. It is the only flour-milling structure remaining in Marion County.

Built on the east side of the original route of the Cottonwood River, the wooden parts of the building have been disintegrating for years, but the three-story concrete structure set on a solid limestone base stands straight and true.

John Ehrlich of Marion purchased the mill in 1897 and produced Excelsior flour for local users and for shipment to surrounding states. His son, A.T. Ehrlich, took over operations and kept the mill going until the early 1960s.

Several people still remember trips to the mill in their childhood and teen years.

Ira Penner, 90, of Marion worked at the mill as a teenager. He said the mill was operated using a one-cylinder oil-field engine. Penner’s job was to weigh and sew shut the sacks full of flour.

J.C. Ehrlich, 88, of Marion, a distant relative of A.T. Ehrlich, remembers going as a child to A.T.’s mill with his father to process wheat for the upcoming winter. The wheat was transported in a two-wheel trailer pulled by the family’s Model “T” Ford. The miller placed the flour into white sacks after processing.

“I can still see Dad carrying the 50-pound sacks of flour upstairs, where they were stored in a cool bedroom,” he said. He estimated the family used 12 to 15 sacks of flour a season.

Ralph Popp’s mother was a sister to A.T. Ehrlich. As a toddler, Popp and his family lived in a house on property near the mill for a year before moving to Marion. His grandparents lived in a house on the mill property. The Popps moved to a house on the north end of Walnut Street and farmed adjoining land.

Now 88 years old, Popp said he had the chore of loading wheat into a wagon pulled by horses and taking it to the mill to be exchanged for flour.

The Santa Fe rail line from Marion to Florence ran on the east side of the mill.

A.T. Ehrlich eventually sold the mill site including 40 acres to Grant Harryman. Harryman lived in the Ehrlich house until 1980, when the acreage was purchased by Eugene Enos.

The property is now owned by the Enos children in a limited liability corporation and is known as the Excelsior Estate. They hope to preserve the mill structure.

A History

Known commonly as the Ehrlich mill after it was purchased by John Ehrlich, the original mill was built and first operated in 1871 by Ira Moore of Marion. He sold a half interest to Charles O. Fuller.

More money was needed to repair and restore the mill to working order after it was damaged. In February 1873, the voters in Center Township approved $4,000 in bonds. The completed mill began full operations on July 4, 1873.

Jacob Funk, a pioneer who, along with his brother Peter, had established a mill in 1872 on their farm along the Cottonwood River northwest of Marion, purchased the mill in 1874.

It was known first as the Excelsior Water Mill, but then became known as Stone Brook Mill.

When John Ehrlich purchased the mill in 1897, he restored the name Excelsior to his flour. The mill was run almost exclusively by waterpower except during dry spells, when a Fairbanks Morse engine was used.

The water was collected in a dam at the mill and was released to flow under the wheel to operate the equipment.

A wooden bridge spanned the river, allowing farmers to bring their grain to the mill on a county road from present-day Sunflower Road.

A renowned Kansas miller, Herman Rogalsky, trained at the Ehrlich mill in his early years. He became the miller at Hillsboro Roller Mills in 1892. In 1906, he and John Wall organized the Wall-Rogalsky Milling Co. of McPherson. The company produced W-R flour for almost 100 years until it was merged with another company.

In 1919, an 18-month dredging project was undertaken to mitigate flooding in Marion by rerouting the Cottonwood River. The Excelsior mill lost the source of its power.

Consequently, a new, concrete mill was constructed in 1918 as an addition to the original mill. Power was furnished by a large diesel engine.

Eugene Enos said the diesel engine that ran the mill was removed by Harryman shortly before Enos acquired the property.

Eugene’s son, Daryl, who lives near the mill site, said he and a grandson of A.T. Ehrlich used to explore the mill.

“You would step through the door and it was all there,” he said.

According to Daryl Enos, some pieces of equipment have been removed, and it is no longer safe to go inside the building. Nevertheless, it stands as a reminder of bygone days.

Last modified April 27, 2011

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