The Juniata mill was an important fixture in the lives of our Assumption area ancestors, for it was here that they hauled their wheat and corn to be ground into flour and cornmeal.
The original mill, erected in 1875, was owned by D. H. Freeman and others. It was a steam roller mill, which is a type of grinding mill using a stationary steam engine to power its mechanism. The mill did not use the huge grinding stones associated with older mills, but rather cylindrical rollers, either in opposing pairs or against flat plates, to grind grain.
Farmers brought their grain to the mill and received back ground meal or flour, minus a percentage called the “miller’s toll.” The mill also purchased wheat from local farmers which was ground into flour and sold in 100 pound cloth bags.
The Freeman enterprise went bankrupt and the property was sold by the sheriff in February 1878. A sad story connected to this bankruptcy was that of Catherine Nerminger, who was born in Prussia about 1839. Along with her husband, John and three small girls, she arrived in Adams County about 1874. Like all new immigrants, the Nermingers were searching for a brighter future. What Catherine found instead was poverty and an early death. John Nerminger, unable to speak English, lost his money in a mill investment. This was most likely the Juniata mill as it went bankrupt about this time. His girls remembered in later years that the only English word they ever heard him speak was “swindler.”
Looking for better opportunities after the loss of his money, John abandoned his wife and daughters on their homestead. When neighbors discovered Catherine and her girls were starving, they were taken to the County Poor Farm. There Catherine became ill and eventually the little girls were placed in the homes of local families.
Years later the oldest daughter, Mary, recalled her mother’s death and burial. Poormaster, Timothy May, realizing Catherine was dying, brought the girls to see their mother for the last time. She admonished them to be good girls and told them good-bye. The following day Catherine died and was buried in an unmarked grave in the County Farm cemetery where she remains today. Her husband, John, was never located.
Nordyke, Marmon & Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, manufacturers of roller mills, purchased the mill at the 1878 Sheriff’s sale. Probably they had furnished the milling machinery and had a lean on the mill. S. W. Clark operated the mill until 1888 when it was again sold by the Sheriff. Adams County purchased the mill for back taxes and sold it to O. R. Palmer in January 1890 for $2,100.
The Juniata Milling Company was organized in March 1890 and purchased the mill for $5,000. O. R. Palmer continued to operate the mill until disaster struck September 30, 1892 when the mill and contents, as well as the Sewell Grain Elevator which stood north along the Burlington tracks, burned down. The flames were seen over eight miles away.
The mill was rebuilt and Edward G. Collins was proprietor in 1894. In 1901 the mill was sold to W. H. DeSanno. The building was struck by lightning in August 1907 and again burned to the ground. The insurance was insufficient to rebuild, but the citizens of Juniata, realizing the importance of the mill in drawing farmers into the village, quickly subscribed stock to build a new mill.
In July 1908 the village passed an ordinance authorizing H.C. DeSanno to construct and operate an electric light plant in Juniata. DeSanno agreed to erect the transmission lines in the village. The light plant was housed in a brick building attached to the mill and electricity was generated by the machinery which powered the mill. Lights in Juniata were turned on for the first time in October. The Juniata Herald newspaper observed “Juniata now has quite a cityfied air.” However, modern residents of Juniata certainly would not be happy with that light plant. The electricity came on at dusk and was turned off at 11 PM, excepting Saturday when it remained on until midnight. The Juniata Light and Power Company operated for ten years until Hastings Utilities connected with Juniata in August 1918 and supplied 24-hour service.
In March 1925 an era came to an end when the Juniata mill burned down for the third time. By this time many farmers had automobiles and housewives were buying name-brand flour at grocery stores. The mill was not rebuilt. In 1927 the lots were sold to Daniel Bittner and in 1951 the Juniata Farmers Co-op purchased the vacant lots. The Co-op eventually built an office and storage building where the old mill had stood.