Bently preserves history at Minden Flour Mill
Before the Minden Flour Milling Co. building can begin life anew as a distillery, Bently Enterprises will preserve the iconic structure’s past.
This summer renovations will start on the 109-year-old building and surrounding edifices, including the adjacent creamery building designed by Frederic DeLongchamp, the famed architect and Reno native who designed the Washoe County Court House, Reno Post Office and the Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad Depot that recently reopened as The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery. The buildings will then be turned into the Bently Heritage Estate Distillery, a maker of whiskey and gin and one of a handful of artisan brewers launched in Nevada since passage of a craft distillery law in 2013.
In the meantime, Bently has been working with the state historic preservation office, a videographer and an engineering historian specializing in flour mills to identify, catalog and preserve more than two dozen pieces of equipment that tell the story of the building’s beginnings.
The goal is to safeguard an important piece of Carson Valley history as well as to enable the new distillery to qualify for the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive, which helps to reduce the cost to rehabilitate and adapt income-producing, historic properties.
“It’s a three-step process for certification,” said Jim Bertolini, national and state register coordinator, State Historic Preservation Office for Nevada, which is assisting Bently with the application.
First, the property has to be deemed historic. The Minden Flour Milling Co. building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
Next, the project as planned must meet the standards of historic preservation set forth by the National Park Service, which with the Internal Revenue Service administers the tax incentive program.
Finally, once the project is completed, it is evaluated to be sure it meets the standard before receiving a rehabilitation tax credit.
To help in the process, Bently found Bob Frame, a historian whose doctorate thesis was on the flour mills and who is currently writing a book on Minnesota flour mills for the University of Minnesota Press.
“That’s how Bently found me,” said Frame. “I got a call in the early part of the week and they wanted me there by the end of the week. We worked out a schedule.”
Frame arrived a week later and spent a day and a half examining the building’s equipment and talking with representatives from Bently and the state historic preservation office as well as Justin Owensby, a videographer who is documenting some of the renovations of Minden’s historic downtown.
What he found was a typical, early 20th century local flour mill with a few surprises.
The first surprise was the roller mill, a commonly-used machine for milling flour, made by E.P. Allis & Co., a famous Milwaukee machine maker.
Frame said when he looked inside he found corrugated rollers, which immediately told him something about the mill’s history.
“They were not configured for flour milling,” said Frame. “The corrugations were used for feed grain.”
Frame said the Minden mill was one of only about a dozen local flour mills in Nevada and one of the largest. It was small to average sized, producing about 100, 196-pound barrels in a 24-hour day and likely contained four or five roller mills when it was producing flour.
Only the one roller mill remains and Bently plans to display it and some of the other artifacts in the new distillery.
Another surprise for Frame was a barley mill, which he said likely pre-dates the building and remains unexplained.
“It’s a bit of a mystery machine,” said Frame.
Eventually, like all mills, the Minden mill slowly switched over to milling grain for feed rather than flour around the time of the Great Depression, when transportation made it easier to ship flour.
By the 1960s it stopped operating, possibly before 1967 when Don Bently bought his ranch and planted deep roots in Carson Valley.