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NSG Visit July 13, 2002

Flour Milling at High Falls Center

Rochester, New York


Donovan A. Shilling

It was one of those truly balmy summer days on Saturday, July 13, 2002, when sixteen members of the New Society of the Genesee met at Jimmy Mac's Restaurant in the heart of Rochester's High Falls area. The restaurant's second floor has a shady porch overlooking the Genesee's High Falls as well as the pedestrian bridge, the Pont Du Renne, named after Rochester's sister city in France.

The meal was hearty-made all the more enjoyable accompanied by the group's spirited conversation. Following lunch, members strolled over to the High Falls Center, one of several revitalized buildings that were once part of the old Brown's Race district that became the "Cradle of Industry" for the young hamlet of Rochesterville.

An attractive classroom on the second floor of the Link Building provided the setting for a presentation entitled "Flour Milling at the Rochester High Falls." The speaker had volunteered to provide an overview of the milling and other activities that were powered by Genesee River water flowing over huge water wheels fed by a quarter mile mill canal called Brown's Race.

In 1815, Matthew and Francis Brown organized the Genesee Manufacturing Company to harness the waters of the upper Genesee Falls. They also made plans to build a community called Frankfort after Francis Brown. Today Brown's Square Park is a reminder of those early pioneers. While flour mills predominated along the Raceway, by 1820 there was also a cotton mill, two sawmills, a scythe mill, and a distillery.

The process and mechanics of sharpening and employing the large millstones to grind flour was explained in some detail. Also touched on was the superiority of the flour ground from grain grown in the Genesee Valley. Its use in leading bakeries in both London and Paris in the 1840s and 50s was noted. Even Queen Victoria was said to prefer cake made from flour ground by the Genesee's mills. The social nature engendered by the gathering at the old mill was created with the tales and gossip passed along by farmers and others. It played a most nostalgic part in the early days of milling.

Perhaps the greatest revolution in flour milling came when George Motley of Rochester, made his two contributions to the industry. The first was his patented process for removing the white centers from the wheat berry with his "wheat splitter." The second was his introduction of steel rollers to replace grind stones. Motley had learned of this roller process while traveling in Switzerland in 1878. There Hungarian Jacob Sulzberger had first successfully used steel rollers for flour making.

By 1880 - 1881, installation in Moseley & Motley Mills of the steel rollers was complete. Flour from the roller process was first called "White Sponge Flour." Later the sale of packages and sacks of Big "B" Flour from the Moseley and Motley Mills became a standard in many grocery stores throughout Monroe and the surrounding counties from 1910 into the 1930s.

Other important industries in the district included Junius Judson's Pin Works, Steam Governor Factory, and his initiation of the Edison Electric Company; D. B. Barton's Edged Tool Company; the Kidd Iron Foundry (later Gleasons). Later the construction of the Holly Water Works was a part of Brown's Race. The original building, now a museum free to the public, once provided water under high pressure to street hydrants for fighting fires within the downtown city district.

At the High Falls Center a number of handouts were available and with a 1:87 scale model of a typical early mill using grindstones, they were helpful to better understand milling from field to flour.

© 2002, Donovan A. Shilling
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