Model Mill as it appeared in 1917. Note the steam locomotives chugging along in the rear; four stacks in the distance emitting smoke; a bag of "kitchen tested" Red Band Flour; the mill's first president, Mr. J.W. Ring; and numerous old vehicles traversing
Today’s column is a fleeting look back to Model Mill’s 94 years of successful operation in Johnson City. Sadly for a lot of folks, the remnants of the old mill may soon vanish.
Model Mill was built by George L. Carter on West Walnut Street in early 1909 and made operational that same year. The mill’s daily capacity was 1,000 barrels of flour, 3,000 bushels of meal and 100,000 pounds of feed. It produced high-grade, 94 percent bran-free flour under the familiar trade name Red Band. Each batch of the product was said to be “kitchen tested,” the company’s patented slogan.
Mr. J. (Joshua) W. Ring served as the first president of the $100,000 Model Mill, overseeing one of the most important milling projects ever undertaken in the South. The new boss previously had supervisory experience at Twin City Mills (Bristol) and the Pulaski Mills.
The four-story facility was 360 feet in length. Macdonald Engineering Co. designed and erected its reinforced concrete storage elevator and smokestack. They were built entirely of rock-hard concrete, offering strength, durability, protection from fire, water and the elements, thereby lowering insurance and maintenance costs. The smokestack, four feet in diameter and 100 feet high, was erected in 10 days, which included the foundation.
The elevator had a storage capacity of 50,000 bushels and consisted of 10 circular tanks, 12 feet in diameter and 50 feet high. The windows were made with metal frames and sash with no wood of any kind or quantity in the construction. The main buildings consisted of choice brick and concrete. The “model mill” had no equal.
Mr. Ring expected to supply a sizable share of the trade in North and South Carolina, noting that completion of the CC&O Railway came at a most opportune time.
A 1911 city directory said: “Model Mill Co., merchant millers, buyers and shippers of grain; located at W. Walnut, corner of Spring; Joshua W. Ring, president who resided at Locust Street near Northwest Avenue; R.H. Griffith, secretary-treasury; and Paul L. Mitchell, feed packer.”
An ad three years later noted: “Mr. Merchant, you should know the best popular brand of flour sold in East Tennessee today. The very first sack of Model Mill Flour was made from choice quality of the golden sheaf. After that, every sack was made the same as the first one and cost no more that ordinary brands.”
By 1917, Ring acquired more responsibilities: president of Model Mill and Tennessee Electric Supply Co. His residence then was West Pine Street near the East Tennessee State Normal School. An ad said: “Model Mill Co., Home of Ring’s Excellent and Sensation Flour.”
By 1923, Ring’s job titles had impressively increased to president of Model Mill and Universal Motor Co. and vice president of Johnson City Investment Co. (owners of Appalachian Hospital at North Boone Street). His house then was at 1100 Tennessee St. at the end of West Locust Street.
Between 1923 and 1928, “Model Mill acquired new officers: J.B McLemore, president; James W. Carter, vice-president; and C.A. Hall, secretary-treasurer.”
A 1928 flyer affirmed: “Buy Red Band Plain or Self Rising Flour. Now the family can eat both cake and filling. Mother used to look with dismay at the remains of her lemon cream cakes with the icing gone. The filling was scooped out but most of the cake was uneaten. Now, every crumb on the plate is consumed.”
During 1930, nine volunteers of a Daughters of the American Revolution unit were given samples of cakes, each made from one of three brands of flour. The ladies voted on the best tasting ones. Red Band Flour stood out from the rest, receiving seven of nine votes.
Every flour sack had a unique registration number printed on the sack. Samples of each milling of flour were also laboratory tested, then filed for future reference, giving customers full assurance of uniform quality.
In 1933, General Mills Inc., announced acquisition of the assets of Johnson City’s Red Band Milling Co. and also formation of the Washburn-Crosby Milling Co. of Louisville. The company paid Mr. Carter $1 million for the mill and its slogan. After that, the business bore a new name — General Mills.
The end came in 2003 when management closed its Johnson City facility, ending 94 years of operation.
The late George Buda, who lived on West Maple Street, once told me how much enjoyment and consolation he derived daily from gazing out his back window at the old mill that seemed to majestically smile back at him.
Email Bob Cox at boblcox@
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