Harrison's Mill eventually became known as Imbs Mill

News-DemocratFebruary 15, 2014 

When the Belleville Advocate came into existence in 1840, newspapers were unabashedly partisan. The Advocate was Democratic and solidly anti-Whig.

I know I have written that before but going through the old newspapers for Belleville's 200th anniversary is such a different experience. There were few attempts at covering all sides of any issue.

News often came through anonymous letters, such as this one from an 1840 issue, complete with strange punctuation and capitalization. I also left in the misspellings.

"A farmer, a few days ago, took a load of Wheat to Harrison's Mill, part of which he exchanged for Flour; and, after his return home, his wife, on attempting to make light bread with some of it, to her utter astonishment, she could not make it rise, with the aid of both pearl-ash and yeast. Said she to her husband 'What the devil has got into old Harrison and his mill, that he can't make flour any more?' Said the husband, 'I don't know that either the Devil, Tom Walker, or any thing else, in particular, has got into him or his mill, more than usual, which was never to forget the toll dish at the proper moment: but this I can tell you, that while the wheat was grinding, I smelled the most awful and horribly offensive smell that ever assailed my olfactory nerves, and which rushed into the mill, dense as the Egyptian darkness, enveloping the whole machinery in its loathsome effluvia, thereby becoming incorporated with the flour as it poured from the Bolt till it destroyed its intellect so effectually, that it is beyond the possibility of being resussitated, even by the power of saleratus.'"

The writer added that he saw hundreds of hogs in mud to their bellies and "faces as long as Judas', when he sold the Saviour," including some dead ones right next to the mill which accounted for the odor and the bad flour.

He called upon the leaders of Belleville to do something.

Poor old Harrison suffered even more in November 1843 when his mill burned to the ground.

In a four-inch article on page two of the Daily Advocate, old Harrison at least received a first initial, "T."

In the typical stilted language of the day, the paper explained,

"It becomes our painful duty this week to chronicle the severest shock ever experienced by our town or county. The destruction of the extensive flowering Mills of this place owned by T. Harrison & Co. The fire was first discovered about 11 o'clock Thursday night, last week, and the rapidity of the flames were such that nothing was saved, save a few barrels of wheat; the saw mill and machine shop attached to the mills were soon enveloped in flames, and what had been, but the evening before, the pride of our Town, and the boast of our noble county, was in a few hours, a mass of ruins.

All the capital the Messrs. Harrisons could command was invested in wheat, every bushel of which was in the Mill; near 70,000 bushels; all was lost. What was most surprising to us, is that they had not a cent of insurance upon any thing, so that these men have lost in a few hours the fruits of their labor for a lifetime. The total loss is estimated at between $75 and $80,000."

The first Advocate edition of 1844 contained a small item noting only that the mill would be rebuilt.

The mill was a Belleville fixture for a long time. Thomas A. Harrison bought the entire operation in 1859. Benjamin F. Switzer bought into the operation in 1864 and took over in 1869, buying the mill for $40,000 at a public auction.

As Harrison-Switzer Milling Co., it was purchased by Switzer's widow in 1889. It was bought by J.F. Imbs in 1917. It later served as a mixing plant for International Multifoods.

The old mill was torn down in 1986 to make way for the Richland Creek Office Park.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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