Flour milling was one of the earliest industries in Ohio's Western Reserve. With the opening of the Ohio & Erie Canal between Cleveland and Akron in 1827, farmers could easily ship grain to growing markets. By 1840, Cleveland represented the principle Great Lakes grain market, and Ohio became the nation's leading producer of wheat.
Alexander's Mill was built in 1855 by Andrew and Robert Alexander as a custom mill, grinding grist for area farmers. Thomas and Emma Wilson purchased the mill in 1900, and began milling and selling wheat, rye, flour, scratch feed, and shelled corn. With transportation improvements by the 1920s, the Wilsons could sell to larger commercial bakers and restaurants.
Also during the early 20th century, the manufacture of commercial animal feeds began to take hold as a popular industry. With the demand for flour diminishing, Wilson's Mill focused on the animal feed industry and the sale of farm products. Presently, Wilson's Mill continues to operate as a feed mill, and has an additional retail store that sells farming and gardening supplies. The mill continued to use water power until 1970 and the mill's water-power system is still in place today.
2011 Oral History Project: Tom Wilson's family has been milling for six generations, over 150 years. Tom talks about the mill's operations.
“When my great-grandfather and grandfather were running things, there was a larger agricultural presence in the valley. Farming was pretty much it. They were doing grinding and milling for animal feeds for the local farmers whether it was the grain to bring in and process so that it could be sold or ones to be made into feeds. We do very little actual milling per se, we do some mixing, but most of the feed now is pre-processed, pre-bagged. We're buying it from major distributors like Buckeye and Purina. In between we went from using a turbine-powered feed mill to now electric, where back then, until like the mid ‘70s, early ‘70s, my father used the water power, now everything is electric. In the early days, my grandfather once boasted he had one of the finest bread flours in Cuyahoga County. Now we're a little more everything is retail, it's aimed for the pet owner, the bird fancier, the lawn and garden fans, the horse owners. We're quite a bit more broad than we were in those days.”
History of Mill Development
2011 Oral History Project: Tom Wilson's family has been milling for six generations, over 150 years. Tom talks about the mill's history.
“The mill as it is right now is a fairly rectangular boxy building about four or five stories tall, white with its general peak on it. It has on the outside of it right now a modern what we call grain "legger" elevator. It looks like two metal rectangles that go up to the top. What that is is like when we used to offload grain, or we offload grain, a truck comes up, we put an auger to it, which is like a screw mechanism, and it puts it into what is now a conveyor. And these cups take it up and dump it in through the mill. It's perched right on the edge of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which was built that way because it was built to use the water power. On the Northern side of the building would be a "falls" box, or what they call the "mill run," and the water there was diverted underneath the mill and would turn the turbines. So if you can imagine having a water wheel like we see in a lot of pictures that flows over the top, most of the time, the life of the mill was probably turbine powered where it went underneath and the wheels laid on their sides. And then through belts and shafts and different things to, you know, disperse the power did everything from grinding to mixing to moving the elevators. To the Canal Road side of things, where it's now there is a small sales office where we funnel the customers in, that's where we have our showplace, all the bird feed and our feeders and some of the small things that we have right there. There are two buildings, it's one building directly attached to the actual mill portion, it's cinderblock. That was put in probably in fifty-some, sixty years ago. And then there's one gigantic shed, if you will, that handles where we put all our bulk pallets of bird seed and fertilizer and horse feed. The mill was built 1853-ish, so you're looking at inside the timbers are fairly roughhewn, some of the original windows in there that we had some of the glass, you could see how imperfect it is because it wavered. Much of that is still original on the insides. The floors are . . . if you can find a flat piece of ground on the floors, God bless you, because there's really no bedrock underneath the mill being in a flat bottomland like that so... When Dad used to use the turbines, the whole place kinda had a twist and shake, you know, sway to it.”
Childhood at the Mill
2011 Oral History Project: Tom Wilson's family has been milling for six generations, over 150 years. Tom talks about the family's experiences.
“Being down there with my dad when I was a kid, I can remember coming home and using pillows, throwing 'em around like they were sacks of feed because that's what Dad did. You know, going down there and snooping around in the mill and climbing up in the bins and almost swimming in like what would seem like a sea of how the kids do in the balls, except ours are kernels of corn and if you stepped wrong you could basically bury yourself up to your knees and, you know, somebody else could bury you like they buried you in the sand.”