"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Dec 26, 2015

Tragedy in Eagle Point

We awoke Christmas morning to no snow, but there was a bit of black ice on the road so I waited before heading out.  Aunt Cathy arranged for my gift to arrive by Christmas and called on Christmas Eve to ask if I’d received it.  I hadn’t checked my mail on the 24th, so as soon as the road was clear I headed to the Post Office to determine whether or not she wasted the Premium Shipping Charge.  There might be a notification left inside my box.

But I couldn’t get through.  Orange cones diverted traffic and in the distance I could see a large piece of machinery and what appeared to be charred remains.  Oh, no…say it isn’t so.

The cornerstone of the community, the Butte Creek Mill of Eagle Point, Oregon, was destroyed by an early Christmas morning fire.  I didn’t stop to follow the people winding their way to view the tragedy, but as previously written, I don’t do that.  I’ll be forced to witness the charred ruins next time I leave the house, since it’s less than a mile down the road.

But I did tear up for the owner, Mayor Bob Russell, who lost his wife earlier this year.  He and Debbie immigrated to Eagle Point from Portland a decade or so ago and transformed the structure into a widely known working grist mill; the last one operable west of the Mississippi.  The Mill was open to the public, and now I’m kicking myself for never taking the time to take their tour.

A charming gift shop was attached.  Walking through the old wooden doors, you entered a plank-floored world straight out of Laura Ingalls.

The first thing that hit you was the wonderful aroma.   Besides just plain flour, they packaged a variety of mixes, plus every ingredient you might need.  Spices in large glass bottles were sold in whatever amount you wanted; handy when you’re on a budget.

But since I don’t bake anymore my focus was on their kitchen accessories. I’m a gadget-person, inherited from Mom.  I picked up a potato masher in a reasonable 6” size, two taco holders I thought might work for pita pockets (they didn’t), and something to help pour liquid from saucepan to bowl, which I can’t put my hands on at the moment.  Whenever I could afford to do so I would pick up holiday presents for others:  spices for mulled wine or cocoa in a Butte Creek Mill tin.

I joined the community on the Mill’s property in 2010 when I became part of the Eagle Point Saturday Market.  The lemonade gal was earning more than I was with gourd art, so I began my Woofers and Tweeters dog treat mixes and tried selling those instead. The mill sold me flour at a discount and took in a case to sell on consignment.  Even though my own business fizzled for a variety of reasons I’m grateful for their support in the beginning.

I tried reinventing myself as the Painted Lady of Eagle Point; offering free arts and crafts to kids on Saturdays while their parents were buying stuff at other booths.  I was a pitiful sight, not even earning enough to pay the $20 fee, but that’s how I met what became my locally-adopted-family (another story).

Mayor Russell’s grief is unimaginable.  He put his heart and soul into the Mill and it showed, and the shop was his wife's baby.  I do believe everyone would agree that passing the Mill on the road just made you smile at the nostalgia.  It was the center of the community and now it’s gone.

I stopped in last week for a couple of things, including chocolate covered espresso beans sold by the ounce, when I spotted coffee mugs with their logo.  They were a bit spendy for my budget but I’m leaving Eagle Point soon and wanted a souvenir.  The purchase is a bit bitter-sweet at the moment, you can imagine.

Unlike impersonal supermarkets, people would chat with one another inside the Mill.   Through the paned window I watched the rushing creek with alarm, since it was up pretty high from recent rains.

“Were you here for the flood of ’97?”  (or whatever year it was).  Nothing to worry about, I was assured; the pilings are fine.  We’re safe.  Didn’t I take the tour next door?  I was too embarrassed to say no, so joked about my failing memory.

I didn't want to post such a story on Christmas so waited until today to speak my heart.

I am so sorry, Mayor Russell.  Know that the community supports and grieves with you.

For information on how to help visit the Mill's website:

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Original gourd art designs Copyright 2020 Andrea Jansen Designs. Please write for permission.



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