To the uninitiated, the large, white, rectangular silo bearing the name Adluh Flour seems out of place in the Vista, an ever-expanding, highly urbanized, arts and entertainment district.
But the reality is just the opposite.
The milling company has been there since about 1900, when an immigrant Dutchman named B.R. Crooner decided to build a flour mill there amid a tangled web of railroad tracks and sprawling warehouses.
“Obviously, 105 years ago, the Vista looked a lot different,” says Bill Allen, vice president of Allen Brothers Milling Co., which has operated the iconic mill since Crooner fell on hard times in the 1920s. “Back then, having a flour mill there made sense.”
Today, the mill that’s so close to hotels, restaurants and shops cranks out 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of flour per day, using the original milling roll stands.
“We’re the second-oldest, continually running, electrically powered flour mill in the United States,” Allen said.
The flour is sold mostly by large distribution companies to restaurants – Lizard’s Thicket is a big customer. But you can still buy a 1-pound bag of plain flour for $2.75 in the milling company’s office off Gervais Street, sort of behind the Hampton Inn.
Other products are also available. The mill produces about 25,000 pounds of cornmeal per day and 6,000 pounds of grits.
The grits have become particularly popular with the buy-local, slow food movement in the area, and the mill is planning to double production soon, Allen said.
For such a large operation, the mill seems to work well in the Vista. And it provides the area with an iconic symbol at its heart – what painting of Columbia’s skyline would be right without it? And it’s quiet, clean and, well, kinda cool.
“We’ve had to make sure we’re good neighbors,” said Allen, even though the mill has been there longer than almost any other business. “You can hit an eight iron to the convention center, so we’re doing everything we can to be environmentally friendly.”
So what of the future for this symbol of the Vista’s past?
The mill is negotiating with potential tenants for the brick warehouse that fronts the mill – likely for the same type of hospitality-based, mixed use that has become the hallmark of the district. Other than that?
“More of the same,” Allen said.