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Poole Mill Disassembled

Old Poole grist mill providing framing for 'green' facility in Bowling Green

By Chuck Stinnett ( Contact ) (The Gleaner, Henderson, KY)
Sunday, June 15, 2008

A farmer pulling a trailer loaded with soybean seed up U.S. 41-Alternate in Poole last Tuesday slowed his pickup truck and stared up at the old Poole Milling Co. grain mill.

He had probably driven past the Webster County landmark thousands of times. But this time might have been the last time. He caught a glimpse of the three-story structure slowly being dismantled.

The old mill, located at a site where flour, corn meal and animal feed were first produced 178 years ago, is gone. But it won't be forgotten, and much of it will be re-used.

The building, where milling operations ceased in 1982, was dismantled by a credit union that recovered tons of sturdy oak floor joists and vertical posts that will soon be used in the construction of a building addition in Bowling Green.

Recycling the sturdy old timber is part of Security One Credit Union's goal of constructing an environmentally friendly "green" building.

"The outstanding timber in the Poole Mill will continue to be useful," Poole native Marvin Russell said.

Russell, who played a role in making the credit union's president aware of the existence of the mill, is pleased that the old building can play a role in a 21st-century project.

"We were all concerned it might be burned down, accidentally or otherwise," the local history enthusiast said.

A local landmark

To be sure, a lot of Poole's history disappeared as the building came down.

"The Poole family came from Bardstown," Russell said. "John and Jane Houston Poole came here in 1826" and in 1830 constructed a horse-powered grist mill.

The community "was called Poole's Mill," he said. That's preserved in the name of the town's diner, Poole Mill Restaurant.

The original mill burned one night in 1924, and the three-story building sitting beside U.S. 41-Alternate on the south side of Poole served as an icon for the next 80 years. The 2003 history book, "Poole, Kentucky: A Journey Back," features a drawing of the mill building on the cover.

"It was (Poole's) main industry, of course," Russell said. "Everyone in the community and surrounding area brought corn and wheat to the mill," which would process it into meal and flour using a chugging, 34-horsepower single-piston gasoline engine.

"It operated all the belts in the basement, a huge array," he said.

"I'd take (corn) by wagon and trade it for meal," recalled Russell, who was born in 1927 and grew up across the road, where his father operated a garage. "I'd trade it for meal. I'd get a sack of meal and a few pennies."

A portion of the grain the farmers brought in would be kept by the mill as payment for its services. That grain would be processed into flour -- sold by names such as Preferred and Southern Pride -- that was sold at groceries in Henderson, Morganfield and Madisonville, or it would be made into animal feed.

During the Depression, women would recycle the cotton flour sacks, making dresses for their daughters or themselves. Russell's 94-year-old aunt, Veneda Russell Thornberry of Poole, still has a tablecloth that was sewn together by her mother from five Poole Milling flour sacks.

And children would fish in a mill pond adjacent to the mill during summer and ice skate on it during cold winters.

Jim Steinwachs purchased the mill at auction in 1959 when he was 27. He renovated it into an animal feed mill and operated it for more than 20 years with his brother, Bill. They sold feed chiefly "to small farmers," said Jim Steinwachs, now a Robards resident. "They would have a few hogs, a few cows and raise tobacco."

"It was good for the community," he said. "It was good for us."

The Steinwachses rented the mill in 1982 to Henderson farmer and agri-businessman Franklin Farley for five years, then leased it for 10 years to Owensboro's Miles Farm Supply, which continued producing feed while also selling other farm supplies.

Miles moved its operation across the highway, and the old mill has been vacant for a decade.

"It was vandalized," Steinwachs said. "Kids knocked out all the windows and got inside and messed things up. I was ready to take it down."

The discovery

Meanwhile, Marvin Russell, a former dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering at Western Kentucky University who is now living in Webster County again, recently invited a friend from Bowling Green, Valerie Brown, to visit him.

"I came up to see Dr. Russell and go to the Poole restaurant, where they have a Marvin Burger," a pair of sausage patties on a hamburger bun, Brown said.

While Russell showed her his family's homes around Poole, she spied the vacant mill. "I said, 'Let me see that building,'" she said.

She had more than a casual interest. Brown is president and CEO of Service One Credit Union in Bowling Green. Her credit union has grown rapidly since she became manager in 1978 and had outgrown its main branch; she envisioned a 7,000-square-foot addition that is to be built to incorporate environmentally friendly principles.

That includes using recycled building materials. "I had looked at a couple of barns, but the wood was too new," she said. "It was from second-growth forests. It was not prime wood."

The old Poole mill, with hardy timbers cut from virgin forests, looked promising.

"The door was open; kids had been inside," Brown said. "I took one look and said, 'That's what I need!'"

The mill had been built stoutly, with 2-by-12-inch oak floor joists and posts made from 10-by-12-inch timbers. It was the sort of structure, as one person acquainted with it recalled, that would prompt visitors to say, "They don't build 'em like this anymore!"

"It would have lasted 300 or 400 years," barring fire or other mishap, Russell marveled.

"I saw it on a Thursday," Brown said, "and purchased it on the following Monday."

"I came up to see a Marvin Burger," she noted while watching the dismantling work last week, "and came away with this."

Careful disassembly

On Tuesday, brothers Greg and Montie Brown from Bowling Green (not related to Valerie), who own their own construction companies, arrived at Poole Milling with a crew of laborers to begin disassembling the mill.

First they pulled off the stone-stamped metal siding from the back of the building. Then Greg Brown used a forklift with a long retractable boom -- called a Skytrak -- to carefully work loose flooring and other timber and drop it to the ground. Metal was dragged to one pile to be sold as scrap; good joists and posts were set into their own piles to be trucked down to Bowling Green.

"We've torn down several buildings, but this it the first time (to do so) with a forklift," Greg Brown said.

It was a slow process, in part because of the desire to not damage good lumber and in part because the mill was constructed so stoutly. One post had no fewer than a dozen strong nails driven into one end.

"It's going to be harder to take down than they thought, it's so well-built," Russell mused.

As the building came apart, old grain receipts fluttered to the ground.

"I hate to see it come down," local history enthusiast Mary Ann Combs, Russell's cousin, said as she watched the slow demolition. "But I'm surprised it hasn't burned down."

A green vision

In the coming months, the credit union will construct what it hopes will qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum Certification. It would be the first certified green commercial building in Bowling Green.

The addition to its main branch on Campbell Lane in Bowling Green will use high-efficiency geothermal heat pumps. The roof will be covered with native grasses and soil that will boost the insulation by a factor of 25 percent while reducing heat from the blacktop around the building. The roof is expected to last 50 years. "It will save two roof replacement projects," Valerie Brown said.

A bioretention basin will both control stormwater runoff and filter the water to reduce pollution to nearby Lost River or Barren River. Solar cells will generate electricity that will be sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority while also providing a shaded parking area. The building will be illuminated chiefly by sunlight.

Interior landscaping will help improve indoor air quality. And no petroleum-based glues will be used, thus reducing interior pollution for the benefit of employees.

"The goal is for it to be an energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable building," Brown said.

"It's very self-sustaining," she said.

The credit union intends to erect a plaque and display photos at its building noting the role of the old Poole Milling facility.

"Their history will be preserved at the credit union," Brown said. "And it's no longer a liability for the owners and the community. Kids can't get in there and get hurt, and there won't be a fire."

Just a memory.






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