Thompson’s Mill State Heritage Site

While paging through an Oregon State Parks guide, I noticed a listing for a state park less than an hour from home.  What is this?!  I thought we’d been to all the state parks near home?  But I’d never heard of Thompson’s Mill State Heritage Site, a flour mill that started in 1848.  Of course, we had to go!

In short, Thompson’s Mill may be the coolest state park you’ve never heard of.

We packed a picnic lunch and drove 45 minutes from Springfield, Oregon, to Thompson’s Mill, near Shedd, Oregon.  We followed Hwy 99E for a charming view of the countryside and a quick stop in Halsey to admire an old wooden grain elevator.

Arriving at Thompson’s Mill, we found the cleanest vault toilets I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.  They even had murals painted on the walls inside.  Picnic tables were scattered around the parking lot and lined the mill race.

Picnic tables line the mill race at Thompson's Mill State Heritage Site

After lunch, we headed to the main building.  The website promised tours anytime, and we were ready to learn how flour mills operated over 100 years ago.  All 6 of our kids were with us, ages 0 to 13 years. 

Dad and 6 kids walk to Thompson's Mill state heritage site for a free tour

Ken and Karen, the park’s docents, met us at the entrance.  Inside, we discovered that the flour mill is very child-friendly, with clear signs indicating what can be touched.  And LOTS of things can be touched!  It’s almost an interactive museum, and our kids were enthralled.  Ken is a wonderful storyteller and brought the mill’s history alive for us.

Inside the Flour Mill

Giant wheels and gears that ran the machinery at Thompson's Mill

Interactive museum exhibits at Thompson's Mill
Ken watches as our son, age 5, turns the wheel on an auger. 

Our two middle kids inspect the auger at Thompson's Mill
As another of our kids takes a turn, the rest of us watch the auger at work, bringing the wheat up and into the grinder.

The original mill stones from 1858
When Oregon State Parks purchased the mill, they scoured the property to find artifacts, including the original mill stones from 1858!

My kids grind their own flour at Thompson's Mill
Karen shows my kids how milling flour works on a manual mill stone.  The big mill stone grinds the wheat, breaking the hard outer layer (or bran) off of the wheat kernel (the germ and endosperm).

Karen, the docent, helps my kids separate the wheat germ from the kernels
Next, Karen showed the kids how to use sifters to separate the ground wheat.  The top tray holds the germ, the middle tray holds the kernels, and the bottom tray held the fine, soft flour.

The museum contains all aspects of a historic flour mill, including sewing machines for making flour sacks, and a brief history of printed flour sacks.

Colorful display of historic flour sacks, including printed sacks used for their fabric

The Turbines

After hearing some anecdotes about bathrooms and workers, the tour headed outside and down the stairs.  Till this point, everything is wheelchair- and stroller-accessible.  There is a ramp going outside, but there is no wheelchair access to the basement. 

These hand crank flood gates control water flow to Thompson's Mill water-run turbines
We stood behind a bank of 4 hand-crank flood gates (not sure this is the correct term, but for lack of a better word…).  These overlook the mill race, which is 16 feet deep at this point.

The water wheel that runs the turbine
Ken opened the flood gate, and water poured in below this wheel.  My photos didn’t really turn out, but below there were several wheels.  As the water ran through, those wheels turned, and started this larger wheel to spinning.  That would have started the machinery during the mill’s operation.  We marveled at the rushing water and the spinning wheel.

Photo Gallery

Upstairs again, Ken described the workings of how they moved finished flour up and down through the mill.  I wandered into the tiny gift shop and a display of home appliances, like an old refrigerator and a wood stove.

The tour was over, and we were free to revisit any of the exhibits inside, except for the basement.  My daughter (the amazing photographer) and I went back through to take more photos.  Below is a gallery of her photos, which capture the history and essence of the flour mill.  Enjoy!


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OregonOutdoorMama

I’m a middle-aged mom of 3-6 and sometimes more, depending on day. I’m out of shape and usually exhausted. Our favorite summertime activity (and sometimes on dry winter days) is getting outdoors and finding adventure.

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