Swany White flour mill owner won’t rebuild

Published 5:41 pm Saturday, December 31, 2011

FREEPORT — The owner of the Swany White flour mill that burned down in central Minnesota said he won’t rebuild but is considering relaunching some of their specialty products.

The Freeport mill has been in the Thelen family since 1903, and recently produced 750,000 pounds of flour per year. Gary Thelen said it is not economically feasible to rebuild after Tuesday’s fire. The machinery dated back to 1897 or 1913.

“I lost everything,” Thelen said Thursday in his Freeport home. “I lay in bed and think this did not happen, and then you see it.”

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It’s too soon to say for sure, but he’s thinking about relaunching the brand’s specialty products, like pancake and organic bread mixes, flaxseed and oatmeal.

Thelen had insurance, but is trying to determine his losses by recreating lost inventories and the material in the antique ledger he used for his accounting. He and his employee escaped the building unhurt, but grabbed nothing.

The community has stepped up to comfort the family since the fire. They’ve dropped off food at the house, with one friend even leaving a huge ham.

“People have been wonderful,” said Gary Thelen’s wife, Sharon. “It’s overwhelming.”

The mill isn’t completely gone. Minneapolis’ Mill City Museum explores Minnesota’s flour milling history and the milling sounds in the museum are from Swany White.

The Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion, an annual four-day show in Rollag, uses a steam engine in the show that was used in the mill.

“I think it’s missed already,” Gary Thelen said. “People are going to miss the white flour, and that’s not an option. A big piece of history died.”