Sanderson Flouring Mills

E. Sanderson Flouring Mill

One of the first industries to spring up in Milwaukee was the flour industry. Pioneer settlers needed flour and meal at once, corn and wheat being very easy crops to start on freshly plowed earth. The availability of water from the Rock River Canal gave the mills the power needed to grind the grain between revolving millstones.

The second largest flouring mill in Milwaukee was the Phoenix Mill, of Sanderson & Co. The Phoenix Mill was founded by Cicero Comstock in 1848. It was of brick construction and and had two runs of stone. William Sr. and his brother Edward, sons of John and Margaret (Whitfield) Sanderson, purchased the mill from Cicero around 1849. The daily capacity was 150 to 200 barrels of flour per day. By 1880 the mill had twelve runs of stone and sixty-five rollers. It had a working capacity of 1,400 barrels daily. When running at full capacity the mill consumed seven thousand bushels of wheat daily. The original building had been extensively remodeled with barely a trace of its original shape. The mills close proximity to the railroad yards made it very easy to transport the flour to Chicago and elsewhere.[1]

In connection with the flouring mill was a large stave factory and cooper’s shop. Barrels were manufactured on the premises from raw logs for use in transporting the milled flour. Members of the O’Driscoll family were coopers, so we imagine the families knew each other or possibly the O’Driscoll’s worked for the Sanderson’s directly. (William Sanderson Jr. married Daisy Driscoll)

The company was later named E. Sanderson & Co., owners Edward Sanderson and Isaac Van Schaick (Edward’s brother-in-law). Isaac joined the firm about 1861 probably about the time William removed to Helena, Arkansas and leased the Gideon Pillow Swan Lake Plantation.

Sanderson Mill as it appeared on the 1894 Sanborn Insurance Map

Sanderson Mill as it appeared on the 1894 Sanborn Insurance Map

Daisy Roller Mill

The third in rank of he pioneer mills, also located on the Rock River Canal, was the one originally called the Kilbourn Mill, built in 1850. This mill passed through many hands. Mr. Kilbourn (founder of Milwaukee) sold his interest in it to Col. Amos Sawyer, who operated it with success until his death, February 16, 1878, after which it was sold to Edward Sanderson. Edward P. Allis (of Allis Chalmers fame) joined the operation about 1880. Sanderson and Allis converted it into a Roller Mill at a cost of $100,000. It was state of the art for its time, operating with some of Allis’ best engines to turn the rollers. August 1, 1881, it was reopened and christened “Daisy” and operated it in partnership for a short time, when Mr. Allis purchased Edward’s interest (1883-1884), and placed Lou H. Hurd in charge as manager. He built up a large business, and continued to run it until December 8, 1885, when it, together with another Milwaukee mill, the Empire, was burned.[2]

Daisy Roller Mill

Daisy Roller Mill

The article is an account of the fire published in the Milwaukee Daily Journal, (Milwaukee, WI) Tuesday, December 08, 1885; col E
Firemen Face Death The Daisy and Empire Flouring Mills Burned
Click image to see the full article.

Daisy Roller Mill Fire, Dec. 1885

Daisy Roller Mill Fire, Dec. 1885


In the biographies of Milwaukee we find references to employees of the Sanderson mill.

Ferdinand Bartel, was a mason by trade and a millwright and found a position at Sanderson’s mill, where he remained for twenty-five years, becoming one of their oldest and most trusted employees.

Bank Wants Its Money

In 1896 Boylston National Bank filed suit to close the Sanderson mill and get its money. Soon after the Sanderson Mill went into receivership. It was interesting to see how many family members took a part in the mill. Below are the articles as they appeared in the newspaper.

Sale of Sanderson Mill is Asked [3]:

The Boylston National bank of Boston filed a petition in the United States court yesterday afternoon, asking for the removal of Frank B. Rice, Guy D. Berry and John E. Pierce, the legal administrators of the E. Sanderson Milling company, and for the immediate sale of the property. The bank holds a judgement of $5,088.77 against the company, and accuses the administrators of managing the affairs of the company solely for the benefit of themselves and the stockholders, without any regard for the creditors. The petition claims that the total amount of the company’s indebtedness is upwards of $90,000.

The petition declares that the property could easily have been sold some time ago for more than sufficient to pay all the debts, but that the administrators refused to sell then and still refuse. The petition further alleges that it is the intention of the administrators to charge large compensation for their services and that such charges will constitute a first lien on the property. The petition states that the property can not be operated successfully without expensive and extensive alterations, to make which the administrators have no money. The petition claims that the plant is depreciating in value and will continue to depreciate unless at once put in suitable condition and operated. The petition requests that the administrators be required to answer interrogatories as to whether they are in possession of and managing all of the property of the company; what the property consists of; the amount, if any, of the depression in value since 1893, and other questions.

Note: 1893 is when William Sanderson Jr. died.

Sanderson Mill Receivership [4]
Judge Seaman spent the day in listening to the argument in the receivership proceedings of the E. Sanderson Milling company, and took the matter under advisement at about 4 o’clock. The old company which weathered the storms of more than a quarter of a century, went out of existence about six months ago, and since the business has been in the hands of legal administrators, the members of the old Board of Directors, John E. Pierce, F. B. Rice, G.D.Berry, and H.B. Sanderson, having settled up. The Boylston National bank of Boston began suit to have the legal administrators removed and a receiver appointed who would be more rapid in settling the milling company’s affairs. On the bill of the bank the argument was heard yesterday. The bill asks that the property shall be sold and the debts of the milling company, amounting to about $90,000, be paid. The petition is based on an allegation that the trustees are managing the property for their own interests and not for that of the creditors.

Hugh Ryan and James G. Flanders appeared for the milling company and B.K. Miller, Jr. for the bank. The attorneys for the trustees said that it would be impossible to close up a business of so much magnitude as the company in question without due deliberation. It was argued that the law kept it in existence for three years after its dissolution for the purpose of settling up its affiars, and that these trustees or administrators were legally responsible. The bill, the attorneys held, was faulty, because it did not allege that the security was deficient, but only alleged that the debts were increasing and the security decreasing.

Judge Seaman said that the only point at issue was the jurisdiction of the court to appoint a receiver. On this point the matter was taken under advisement.

Sale of the Mill

Nunnemacher May Buy [5]
Local Miller offers $81,000 for the Phoenix Mill
Providence Bankers Hold the Property at $100,000

Negotiations Are Now in Progress for the Purchase of the Sanderson Mill, Robert Nunnemaker Having Made an offer with a View to Operating it.

A possibility exists that the Sanderson mill will be in operation again before Jan. 1, as negotiations are now pending between the Providence bankers who purchased the plant a year ago and Robert Nunnemacher, one of the members of the Faist-Kraus company, which operates the Duluth roller mills on the south side. It is said on good authority that the owners of the mill ask $100,000 for the property, while Mr. Nunnemacher’s offer is limited to $80,000, which has been left open until next Friday.

Yesterday morning Edwin Milner and M.A. Hunt of Providence arrived in Milwaukee, and accompanied by Edward Barber of this city, who has been conducting the negotiations for the sale of the mill, went to Mr. Nunnemacher’s office, where a long conference was held. The party subsequently visited the mill property on Commerce street, and Mr. Milner and Mr. Hunt afterward left for the East on an afternoon train. Speaking for his principals, Edward Barber,said: “Absolutely noting has been done yet looking to a transfer of the mill property, and I prefer that nothing be now stated in the newspapers. I cannot say what prices have been asked or offered.”

Neither Mr. Hunt nor Mr. Milner would be quoted for publication.

Mr. Nunnemacher said the mill would be operated if it passed into his possession. “A great many repairs would be necessary to place the mill in running order,” he said, “as it has been idle for some time and its condition of course has deteriorated. The boiling silk has been ruined by worms and about $7,000 would be required to replace it, and the machinery also needs a thorough overhauling. The mill had a capacity of 2,000 barrels daily when the Sandersons were running it, but I think Mr. Faist could increase the output to 28,000 or 30,000 barrels if we buy it. I made the Providence people an offer for an investment and left it open until Friday for them to accept or reject, but we are so wdely apart in our views that the deal may not go through and besides that Mr. Milner says Chicago parties are also bidding for the property.

The Sanderson, or Phoenix, mill was built in 1848 by William Sanderson, an older brother of Edward Sanderson, and was operated until 1895, Edward Sanderson succeeding his brother and the Sanderson Milling company assuming charge when Edward Sanderson died. In 1895 the Sanderson Milling company was forced into bankruptcy and the property subsequently passed into the hands of the Providence bankers, to whom the Sandersons were indebted for about $120,000. the mill has a daily capacity of 2,000 barrels flour, is supplied with improved machinery and a 1,000 horse power engine, and adjoining the mill is an elevator capable f storing 250,000 bushels of wheat. Referring to the value of the property, Edward Barber said recently; “If anyone had offered Edward Sanderson $400,000 for it during his lifetime, he would have refused it.”

[1] Pioneer History of Milwaukee: 1854-1860. 1886 By James Smith Buck, pg 335; and History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, The Western Historical Company, Chicago; A.T. Andreas Proprietor, 1881.
[2] Pioneer History of Milwaukee: 1854-1860. 1886 By James Smith Buck, pg 336
[3] The Milwaukee Sentinel, (Milwaukee, WI) Wednesday, January 08, 1896; pg. 5; col D
[4] The Milwaukee Sentinel, (Milwaukee, WI) Sunday, April 12, 1896; pg. 11; Issue 18; col C
[5] The Milwaukee Sentinel, (Milwaukee, WI) Tuesday, September 27, 1898; pg. 4

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