Since its construction in 1836, the Charles Mill has been an outstanding landmark along the Mississinewa River in Marion. The mill's builder, Riley Marshall, grandfather of future Vice-President Thomas Marshall purchased the site in 1834 (Jackson). Marshall, who had come to the area in 1817, originally lived on a farm three miles north of Marion. He and his wife Betsy established a new homestead in 1834 closer to the present location of the mill. In 1854 the Marshall's moved to Lagro in Wabash County (Whitson).
In 1843, John Secrist bought the Marshall's Mill and rebuilt it. Four years later the mill was washed out, but Secrist, a determined man, rebuilt it again (Simons 24). Secrist was born in 1811, in Rockingham County, Virginia. He was raised on his father's farm with eleven other siblings. As a youth he learned the trade of carpentry, and in 1843 he move to Marion, Indiana in search of work. There he bought the Marshall's Mill, and operated it until 1888. He then married Miranda Burgess, with whom he had two daughters, Elizabeth and Elma. He later married Rebecca Spence, who was daughter to Dr. Lafayette Spence. (Bowen Publishing Company 243-245).
The Secrist family operated the mill two years before James Charles came along wanting to rent it. James was born in 1835, in St. Keverne, Cornwall, England. James grew up learning the trade of milling from his father. In his 20's James joined his brother Edward in Buffalo, New York in milling flour. He later went to Marion where he would work for the Secrist's Mill, which he would later purchase in 1881. The Secrists did not want to give full responsibility for the mill away, but James promised to work a full month without pay if his management failed (Simons 26). He married Emma, Secrist's daughter, with whom he had two sons named Mark and Harry, who also would enter the milling business. James went to the University of Michigan, where he would study law. In 1881 James was appointed as one of the county commissioners. In 1898, he was called upon by the Republican Party to serve the Grant County as state senator. James would then spend the rest of his life in Marion, Indiana. (Bowen Publishing Company 223-227).
In 1912, Oliver M. Thomas purchased the Charles Mill and operated it until 1956 (Simons 46). Oliver was born in Cass County, Indiana, in 1863. Oliver's father, Addis, died when he was four, and his mother, Anna, died when he was only seven. He then remained in the care of his grand mother and later became a member of the family of his uncle, William Burge. At the age of 20, Oliver became a teacher, which he did not enjoy very much. Later when his uncle secured a mill, and he became a bookkeeper of it. Then he moved up to a manager position, and later he was given a partnership in the mill. In 1891, Oliver married Eva Prickett, the daughter of the famous Thomas Prickett. With all Oliver's business accomplishments, he has earned a warm place along with the great leading men of the community (Bowen Publishing Company 285-287).
Owners from 1956 to Present
In 1956, Dale Johnson of Marion bought the Charles Mill, but he then resold it to Howard W. Oliver. Oliver was determined to fix the mill, which at this time was in very poor condition. After the mill was partially up to code, Oliver sold the Mill to Marion Realtor Fred Millspaugh, who ran the mill a couple of years (Simons 46). Millspaugh then sold the Charles Mill to Greg Bowers in 1983. After owning it for a few years, Bowers sold the Charles Mill to Phillip Miller in 1986 (Riley A10). In 1998, the Charles Mill was then sold to the City of Marion for 14,000 dollars, in hopes to restore its condition (Smith A1).
Riley Marshall actually built the Charles Mill in 1836, intending for it to be a sawmill, but through the years it has had many other uses. In 1843, John Secrist purchased the Charles Mill and rebuilt it into a gristmill (Simons 26). In 1881, James Charles purchased the Charles Mill, which he continued the use as a gristmill, and averaged amazingly over 80 barrel of flour a day (Allen 6). Oliver Thomas then purchased the Charles Mill in 1912, but he was the last one to use the building to make flour. In fact, Addis Thomas, relative to Oliver Thomas, was the last mill operator of the Charles Mill. He noted that electricity was starting to be used to power the machines, which shows how everything was becoming more modern (Simons 26).
After 1956, The Charles Mill was starting to be used to sell modern products. After Dale Johnson sold the mill to Howard Oliver is when the real change from old to new took place. He poured a six-inch concrete floor on the first level. He then stated remodeling the second floor so that it can be rented out. When he finally opened the building, it was used to sell electronics (Simons 26). After he finally finished, the ground floor included Clarey's Ole Mill Meat Market, a barbershop, a beauty shop, a Methodist church, and an insurance agency. Millspaugh then bought the Charles Mill and opened up Hall's apartments. The building also became Abbot's Letter and Bowling Supplies, Black Dragon Motor Cycle Club, and Bottom Up Jean Shop. Millspaugh then sold the mill in 1983 to Greg Bower, who opened J. G. Bowers Inc. general construction (Marion City Directory). In 1986 Bowers sold the building to Phillip Miller, who opened a Save-On Liquor store (Riley A10). In 1998, the City of Marion purchased the Charles Mill from Phillip Miller for 14,000 dollars (Knightlinger, "Charles Mill"). They purchased the building in hope to restore its condition (Julian).
Charles Mill Today
In the auction of 2000, the Redevelopment Commission of Marion hoped to sell the Charles Mill to someone who would restore the building. The Charles Mill is one of the fifty old mills still standing in Indiana (Wright). Today, the mill lies in a flood zone, and it can cost more than $300,000 to get the building up to code (Knightlinger, "Mill Still"). The ground floor is two feet under the flood line, which would cost a lot of money to get it raised (Knightlinger, "Developer"). With hopes to make the mill a restaurant, November Kenneth and Alene Sloan put in an offer of $15,000 for the Charles Mill in early 2000 (Knightlinger, "Bids" A1). They proposed to make the first floor a steakhouse, and the second floor a French restaurant, named Tour Du Moulin, or Tower of the Mill (Knightlinger, "Mill buyer" A1). Sloan claimed that he has experience in fixing up buildings and he already fixed up the Edsel House, the American Electric Power building, and the city and county building in Indianapolis. Sloan however failed to state how he would get the money to pay for all his renovations (Knightlinger, "Bids" A1).
Scott Pitcher from Kokomo also bid on the Charles Mill, but he had a different vision for the mill. Pitcher offered to pay the commission one dollar for the mill, but then promises to put more than $400,000 to renovate it. Pitcher claims that he has hundreds of buildings in Kokomo and he has made a life of rehabilitating them, totaling over 35 million dollars. Pitcher hopes to make the mill into condominiums, which would sell for more than 100,000 dollars a piece. He also claims that these condominiums would have one of the best views of the Mississinewa River. ("Kokomo developer right choice for Charles Mill" A1).
The hardest job for the Redevelopment Commission of Marion was to pick the next owner of the Charles Mill. The redevelopment commission not only looked at the highest bidder, but they considered the plans of the bidder (Knightlinger, "Mill buyer" A2). They then checked the backgrounds of the bidders, and they found out that Pitcher has more experience in fixing up old buildings then Sloan. On November 29, 2000, the redevelopment commission chose Scott Pitcher to be the next owner of the Charles Mill (Knightlinger, "Mill become" A1).
The Charles Mill is a historically significant building in Marion, dating back to the mid 1800's. After being built by Riley Marshall in 1836, the Charles Mill was owned by many people. Although it was built to be a sawmill, it has had a variety of uses. The Charles Mill's fate was determined in the auction of 2000, which the redevelopment commission of Marion found the next owner.
Written by Mike Fuchs.
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- Biographical Memoirs. Bowen Publishing Company. Chicago: Illinois, 1901.
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- "Thomas Riley Marshall." Chronicle Tribune 29 June 1975.
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