Bears Mill offers history and art in a natural setting

GREENVILLE – The flow of grain is important… too fast? Not fine enough. Too slow? Burned. So they had to pay attention to the flow of the grain when the French buhr stones were grinding the flour…

“That’s where the phrase ‘keep your nose to the grindstone’ came from,” said Bears Mill ‘Ranger’ Terry Clark. The former co-owner (with his wife Julie) had once referred to himself as the Mayor of Bears Mill, but opted over recent years to stick with ‘Ranger.’ He is one of the few people in the state who can run a water-powered stone-grinding flour mill, and Bears Mill is one of the few still operating in Ohio.

Clark conducts tours of the mill Saturdays at 2 p.m. (call 548-5112 to confirm schedule), providing detailed information about how the mill was built and powered, as well as anecdotes such as where the phrase “get the lead out” came from… Holding an 1832 long gun costing about $6 in 1834, he said people would put extra lead balls in their mouths so they could reload faster. Sometimes they would swallow one… the next day “they would get the lead out.”

Buhr stones cost about $6,000 a pair in 1849 when the mill was built and were only available in France. It was a 2-year journey but worth it for their abrasive and porous qualities, resulting in a slow, cool grinding process. This prevents unnecessary loss of nutrients, something modern milling can’t claim.

Clark is full of stories about the mill and the history surrounding it. He takes tours through three floors, from hauling grain through the top floor window with a winch rope to delivering the finished product to the first floor. While history is one major focus of Bears Mill, so is art and nature. His wife, Julie, a potter, found the antique artistry and idyllic setting inspirational… as did many local artists. The mill offers an “Artists Series” of rotating art exhibitions. The mill sells its own stoneground flours and meals, as well as other products emphasizing handmade and made in U.S.A. The mill is located just east of Greenville at 6450 Arcanum-Bear’s Mill Road.

The “Friends of Bear’s Mill” purchased the mill from the Clarks in 2013. A nonprofit organization, it obtained a grant for the purchase but operates on mill sales, donations, pledges and other forms of fundraising to keep the mill operational for today’s and future generations. Various pledge levels have names, with the top one called “Rufus McCooter.”

“Rufus McCooter is our friendly spirit,” said Clark. Two mill visitors, Matt and Tory Charles, had enjoyed the tour but became especially interested at the McCooter comment. They own and operate Weston Paranormal Investigations.

Clark shared the story of coming in at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and he’d hear maybe a hundred or so people go through the front door… “It’s so active it’s scary.”

Referring to them as friendly spirits, Clark added “they never hurt me, but I’ve heard my name.”

Bears Mill ‘Ranger’ Terry Clark (right) discusses how the mill operates with two visitors from Weston, Matt and Tory Charles. (Bob Robinson photo)

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