Saturday, September 8, 2012

Vanished Rochester: Neely Roller Mill

The Neely mill on Paint Creek in 1907
The Neely Roller Mill stood on the banks of Paint Creek at the north end of Main Street, near the site of today's Rochester Athletic Club.  According to a Detroit Free Press account, the mill was built in the fall of 1868. Doctors Jesse and Jeremiah Wilson were the proprietors for the first eight years, during which the enterprise was known as the Eureka Mills.  The Wilsons then sold the mill, and it was acquired in 1896 by Thomas Edward Neely, who improved the machinery and produced the Vigilant brand of flour there.

Trouble erupted after the Detroit Sugar Company built a large sugar beet processing plant upstream on Paint Creek in 1899. In 1903, Neely sued Detroit Sugar for damages, claiming that the beet pulp discharged by the plant impeded the supply of water to his mill. The Free Press reported on May 17, 1903:
Neeley asks $15,000 alleging that the sugar company has thrown lime, dirt, sand, refuse, beets and beet tops into Paint Creek until his mill pond is diminished in size fully one-half and his race is filled from three to five feet deep.  Neeley sets up that his loss has been from $3,000 to $5,000 per year since the sugar factory was erected and says the value of the flour mill is $10,000.

Neely was awarded slightly more than $2,000 in damages, and Detroit Sugar soon thereafter closed its Rochester facility due to a perfect storm of economic woes.  A few years later, in 1908, there was more litigation revolving around water rights on Paint Creek. This time, Neely sued Western Knitting Mills, claiming that when WKM built its new dam, the water level in Neely's tail race had been raised, destroying his water power.  Neely was awarded $2,800 by the jury, but WKM appealed. In 1909, the appeals court required WKM to accept a lower award of $1,800 or opt for a new trial, but by that time Neely had already sold the property and moved to Armada in northern Macomb County. The mill building and equipment was sold to Lapeer men, who dismantled the mill in late 1908. Neely continued in the milling business in Armada and died there in 1931.

In 1997, when construction crews were working on the pedestrian walk along Paint Creek, they discovered remnants of the Neely mill, including some of the wood from the foundation of the water wheel.

No comments:

Post a Comment