John Clapp, president of Friends of the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, welcomes students from Wisdom Ridge Academy to the mill
Just over a covered bridge in Woodland is the Cedar Creek Grist Mill. Since 1876, the mill has been nestled in a thick, green forest beside a rushing creek; it seems to stand still in time. But its history is truly remarkable, its very presence a labor of love on the part of the community surrounding it.
John Clapp, president of Friends of the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, welcomes students from Wisdom Ridge Academy to the mill. He hauls out long wooden benches where the Ridgefield School District students can sit, then shares the story of the mill. It started as a grist mill in 1876, he said, but because the community was so small, it didn’t make enough money for its owner. After a few years, the owner relocated to Chehalis to build a new mill and left the Cedar Creek mill to his friend. That friend turned it into a machine shop, where the swift water turned a turbine powering many different machines. But when the machine shop finally closed, the building stood empty.
The building was a central part of the community for a time, serving as a gathering place for meetings, dinners, and parties. Over the years, though, the building fell into disrepair. It was used less and less often, until it finally became a vacant, vandalized shell of its former self. A few farmers removed what was left of the mill equipment and stored it in their barns for safekeeping.
Clapp explained that the community decided to rebuild the mill in 1979. Bit by bit, the group gathered donations, volunteering their time and labor over months and years to refurbish each piece of the mill. They replaced beams and boards and located vintage mill parts. “Whenever we needed something, it just appeared,” Clapp marveled.
The group’s goal was to have the mill operational again — no easy feat for a building that had stood vacant for decades. With the help of machinist Fred Schultz, the volunteers slowly learned how to bring the mill back to life. When opening day came, they ground flour and cornmeal with milling stones hand cut from French granite, the first in the mill for over a hundred years.
Clapp was happy to demonstrate how the mill worked for the Wisdom Ridge students. After a brief break while he cleared the flume of leaves, students gathered around the milling equipment. A volunteer on the other side of the room turned a metal wheel slightly, and the entire mill jumped to life. The students stood with mouths agape as the strength of the water started an entire system of belts and gears in motion, powering the mill to grind thick wheat kernels into flour in mere seconds.
Afterwards, the students ran their hands through samples of corn and cornmeal, wheat and flour. Outside, they wandered down a path for a side view of the mill, where they got a better idea of how the mill worked. They could watch water diverting from the rushing creek into the flume, flowing into the huge turbine and creating power. It was a remarkable field trip for the students who typically do most of their learning online, a lesson that brought them back in time, but also taught them the importance of community.
Cedar Creek Grist Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places as the only grain-grinding mill in the entire state of Washington that has retained its structural integrity, grinds with stones, and is water-powered. The Friends of the Cedar Creek Grist Mill remains all volunteer and donation-driven, running regular events that include Blueberry Pancake Day in July and Apple Cider Pressing Day in October. You can learn more about the mill and support their mission at https://cedarcreekgristmill.org/
Information provided by Ridgefield School District.
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