The Ritter Flour Mill
Reprint from the Blue Mtn. Eagle
Dec. 14, 1972

For 20 years, from 1916 to 1936 the Ritter Flour Mill cleaned grain, ground flour, graham mush, and corn meal, and made bran for pig and calf feed. Though the beautifully built building stands in silence now, local people enjoy recalling its unique sound. The beat or toll of the one-cylinder Foos gas engine, like a click or a clap, could be heard about every two seconds from the road. Closer to the mill the rustling rattle of the cleaning and grinding machinery completed the music of the mill.

The chain of events resulting in that big building in a grassy field of northern Grant County began when Paul Gruppe, who created and operated the mill, was born in Germany May 22, 1854. He arrived in the United States when he was 20 and spent two years in Iowa. After working the next two or three years building flour mills in Seattle, he took a trip to Walla Walla. He changed his plans to return after learning that Seattle carpenter jobs had closed down. Dan Morrow and Jack Whalen talked Gruppe and his friend, Henry Fedler, into accompanying them back to Long Creek. They both liked the country so well they eventually homesteaded, and Fedler's descendants and Gruppe's mill remain as memorials to their lives in the Ritter community.

Paul Gruppe homesteaded the beginning of a large ranch in 1884. His carefully built log homestead cabin still stands near Mr. & Mrs. Buster Burnette's home. The fireplace is stone, and the chimney made of shakes arranged like unnotched logs in a log cabin with mud or adobe filling in the spaces and lining it. It is a most unusual and attractive chimney. The logs are meticulously fitted and are very even on the inside. The dirt floor and small size of the cabin indicate the simplicity of the life lived there in the 1880's. Matrimonial vine and a lilac bush still grow beside the cabin that was a home, a school and then a smokehouse.

Later Gruppe built a two-story home. The house was moved east in the mid '50s and is next to Mr. and Mrs. Merle Morris' home. Vivian Burnette Morris is a great granddaughter of Henry Fedler.

Paul Gruppe was a bachelor. For some years his brother, William, also an excellent carpenter, was with him. A sister, Bertha Gruppe, lived in Alaska during gold rush days and then kept house for him during later years. She lived in Long Creek a while after his death. He belonged to the United Brethen Church and the Long Creek Masonic Lodge. He also attended some lodge meetings in Canyon City. Mr. Bill Justice remembers his riding through the Fox Valley on those trips. He rode a big sorrel horse and always worked the reins with both hands as if helping the horse along, Mr. Justice recalled.

The Ritter miller was a medium-sized man, after his beard turned white, it was his distinguishing characteristic. He was friendly but serious and spoke with a thick German accent. He was a hard-working man as his large cattle ranch and business indicated. The flour mill he built in 1916 is an inspiring building. Even the stone pillars it stands on are beautiful. The beams and timbers are fitted and mitered precisely. He made the wooden wheels, banded in metal, to move the belts for the machinery.

Grain from a wagon or truck was conveyed into the basement, then up to the third floor by the grain elevator. It was cleaned, and the screenings were run out through a spout on the south end of the building into sacks to be taken home for stock feed.

Some people liked to have their own grain ground. Others traded their grain to Gruppe for the products they needed. His graham mush was liked so well that people liked to snack on it straight from the sack. Buster Burnette worked for Paul Gruppe in 1935 and later bought the part of his ranch including the mill.

Paul Gruppe died Feb. 14, 1936 and his funeral and burial were on land that had been part of his ranch. The funeral was conducted by the Rev. W.B. Anthony in the Ritter School house. He was buried in Arnold Cemetery, named for the Rev. Joseph C. Arnold, an early local homesteader and preacher. Ira Arbogast had deeded an acre of land to Gruppe with the understanding that Gruppe would deed an acre of his land, which was an ideal site, to Grant County for a cemtery. Thanks to Arbogast, it was one cemetery that had a clear title when the cemetery district was formed.

The mill was not run as a business after Gruppe's death. Sometimes some bran feed was made at the mill, and it is still used for cleaning grain.

Mr. and Mrs. Lige Davis and Mr. and Mrs. Burnette bought land from the Gruppe estate. The Burnettes and their son, Fred, and daughter-in-law now own the former Gruppe place.

Only eight pupils attended school in the fourth Ritter schoolhouse in 1952. The next year Ritter students began attending the Long Creek school. The Ritter schoolhouses and the mill remind us of the past when a busy school and mill and more ranchers were part of the way of life in that beautiful area.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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