On the bank of Fawn River sits a little community that is run by the power of Indiana’s oldest commercial water-powered mill, Greenfield Mills.
The history of Greenfield Mills starts back in 1832 with Samuel Burnside. He built a sawmill on Crooked Creek which is now named Fawn River. It was a few short years later that Burnside’s neighbor Peter Beisal decided to construct a grist mill.
The grist mill was constructed one story at a time and it has a lower level where water creates the energy to run the mill, the main floor where bagging, grinding, and sifting happens, the second floor where there are storage and sifting bins, and even a third floor with more of the storage and sifting process.
Back when they were constructing the mill in the early 1800s they didn’t have all of the technology that we have to build with today. They used man power.
One of the beams on the third story is calculated to be four and a half to five tons and was lifted up to 60 feet in the air. David Rinkel, the present owner of Greenfield Mills, is still trying to figure out how they got the beam up to where it is.
The mill is still being held together by the wooden pegs and nails that it was first built with. It was built so well even the shaking of the sifter on the third floor does not shake the rest of the building or even the floor. As you walk to the sifter you do not feel the shaking until you are within two feet of it. The sifter is made almost completely out of wood and there is a 75-pound weight on the bottom and on the top of the sifter.
When Beisal was building the mill he ran into financial and health trouble and was not able to complete the construction project. Amos Davis picked up the project and was able to complete the mill in 1846. The mill was then sold and from 1846 to 1904 the mill was said to have been sold 32 times. People considered the mill jinxed and would take bets to see how long the new owners would last.
It was in 1904 that Henry Rinkel purchased the mill. He purchased it with a wife and a young son at the time. “Henry had more courage and faith than anyone I know of. He had to go home and tell his wife that he had just bought a jinxed mill,” said David Rinkel.
At the time Henry Rinkel purchased the mill, it was not being used as a mill and wasn’t in the best of shape. The second floor was being used for dances on Friday, basketball on Saturday, church on Sunday, and school during the week. They had to relocate the church and school when Rinkel purchased the mill.
The neighbors all thought that he was crazy to undergo the effort of fixing up the mill but they all helped out. They thought that it would help to get rid of the negative effect of the dance hall on the youth. It took two years of hard work to get the mill in running condition, especially to rebuild the 40 ft. dam that had washed out.
During the setting of state boundaries and lines based on the states getting water access, the mill was right in the middle of politics. “The mill has been in two states and two counties and it has never moved,” said Rinkel.
Rinkel believes that the mill succeeded with his grandfather because of his faith and the old age saying, “We’re too dumb to know when we’re licked, so we’re still here.”
When touring or looking through the mill products available for purchase, guests will see that the faith of the Rinkel family is a big factor in their lives. There are Bible verses on all of their products and during a tour they talk about the faith that it took to get to where they are.
The Rinkel family at Greenfield Mills is one that is very locally driven. They sell their products to local and small businesses. One way that they are providing local support is that the mill is hydroelectric and provides the electricity for 11 homes in the area. They are fully supported from the mill and then the excess electricity is sold back to the electric company.
Before KFC was bought out by Pepsi Co. Rinkel flour was used for the fried chicken recipe in five states, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Colonel Sanders’ son even came to visit Greenfield Mills during their time of business. KFC was originally run on the principal of helping out the local businesses as well. If someone in the area had the best mashed potatoes, KFC would use those mashed potatoes. That is how Rinkel flour became the flour used.
Greenfield Mills is still producing products made from wheat and buckwheat. They have the best local pancake mix with many different flavors available, including chocolate chip, pumpkin spice, blueberry and raspberry. Tours are available from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. To schedule a tour, call 260-367-2394. There is a small charge per person for the tour.