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A Look at the Coppes Grist Mill

Welcome to another in the series of Bill’s History Corner, where I try to explain or highlight an aspect of history as related to the old factory. Coppes Commons has had several different names, depending who the owners were at the time. Except at the very beginning of the company, the Coppes name was always the first name to appear. Such as the Coppes Bros. & Zook, or Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co.

During the 1880’s, the three Coppes Brothers; Frank, John, and Samuel, were working together. This is also the time of possibly the most important developments in the company. The three brothers had been operating the sawmill along with wholesale and retail lumber sales. To this already full schedule, they added manufacturing building components, such as window sash & frames, doors and frames, and other building components. The shipping box portion of the company was expanded into a new brick building in 1883. They had such a large business they had two extra-large railroad cars built expressly for the transportation of the lightweight wooden boxes.

In 1887 the company built and began operating the Grist Mill on South Main Street. The town of Nappanee had tried for a couple of years to have a Grist Mill built in Nappanee. There was a need for this kind of business in Nappanee. Farmers were raising wheat locally but didn’t have a good steady market to sell their product. Before the Grist Mill was built farmers would most likely sell their wheat through middlemen who would come to town and offer to purchase what was for sale, usually at a lower price than what was being offered in the cities. Either sell to the wheat buying middle man or haul your wheat to Elkhart or South Bend. Neither choice was great.

The pictures I want to highlight today are of the Coppes Bros. & Zook grist Mill 1897, ten years after it was begun. The first picture is of the loading dock with Coppes Bros, & Zook employees (this loading dock is still the one you can see today along S. Main). Several of the men obviously work closely with the finished flour as their clothing is more white than dark colored. I also see two hand carts, several full bags which could incoming wheat or other animal feeds such as “CHOP FEED” or “BRAN,” which was sold to local farmers. These bags are not likely milled flour, because as far as I know, the finished milled flour was bagged in 5, 10, and 24 ½ -pound paper bags. When the milled flour was sold in large quantities it was priced by the “BARREL”, which was 196 pounds.

I wonder if the man to the right in the clean suit is one of the Coppes Brothers? And how did he keep his suite so clean?  Notice the youngster on the right, is that his bike on the other end of the dock? Where have we seen youngsters with Bicycles in other Coppes pictures?

The 2nd photo I want to highlight is also of the Coppes Bros, & Zook Grist Mill. This picture which was likely shot on the same day as the Employees picture (has the same date). It is looking South at the mill from ground level with the railroad tracks in the foreground.

Some of the details I want to point out are that this is a four-story building with a cupola on the roof. There is a rail car beside the building for loading ground flour and shipping to distance customers. The power to drive the machinery comes from the boilers and steam engine in the low “engine house” to the rear, under the smoke stack. One side note is the fuel that was burned was mostly wood cut offs and scrap wood from the Coppes Bros. & Zook saw mill. I can imagine that it would take 2 men working full time to feed the lumber fuel into the boilers. A lot of hands-on labor in this business. You can see the small train track guard shack behind the crossed arms train crossing sign. You can’t see it this picture, but the first house South of the mill was built by the Coppes Bros. Zook for the dwelling of the “master miller” Mr. George Nold.

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