Milling Operatons on King Street Date to 1888

Thursday, December 17, 2009 - by Harmon Jolley
Mountain City Mills, shown in 1934 advertisement
Mountain City Mills, shown in 1934 advertisement

Today, we don’t see many amber fields of grain along highways leading into Chattanooga. However, in the 1885 promotional guidebook, “Chattanooga: Its Past, Present, and Future,” Thomas L. Cate listed wheat among several crops which “we raise profitably.” Perhaps the proximity to wheat, combined with a growing manufacturing base, led to the establishment in 1888 of the Mountain City Flour Mill. This company is the root of a current milling enterprise on King Street near Eleventh Street.

The Mountain City Flour Mill’s founder was William A. Campbell. Born in Meigs County on February 3, 1843, Mr. Campbell enlisted with the Federal army during the Civil War. He served with Company “G” of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry. Settling at Georgetown, Tennessee after the war, Campbell helped to establish the Bank of Charleston.

In November, 1886, William Campbell moved to Chattanooga, where he and his brother, John A. Campbell, started the Campbell & Company furniture manufacturing business. He also founded the Park Woolen Mill, and was a stockholder in Baylor School during its 1893 founding.

The Mountain City Flour Mill was organized by William Campbell in 1888. The business produced Oriental Flour, Crystal Meal, and feeds for hogs, poultry, and cattle. Mountain City was among the first to use the Tennessee River for barge shipments from St. Louis.

In 1902, the square footage of the plant at 204 to 210 King Street was increased by fifty percent. That same year, the Chattanooga Bakery, now famous world-wide for its Moon Pies, was established as a subsidiary dependent on the mill’s flour. Chattanooga Bakery evolved into an independent company, which it is still today.

William Campbell’s enterprise quickly grew, and thrived during the first half of the twentieth century. The product line included the southern staples of flour, meal, bran, hominy, grits, and feed. Chattanooga Mill, located nearby at 1202 Market Street, was operated by the same management as Mountain City.

On October 7, 1948, the Chattanooga Times reported that Mountain City’s owners, led by President Tom Ragland, had decided to focus on its livestock feeds business. The rights to the meal and flour products were sold to Royal, Barry-Carter Mills, Inc. of Nashville. The acquiring company was the manufacturer of Martha White brand flour.

In 1952, the flour mill was sold to Dixie-Portland Flour Mills of Memphis. Under Dixie-Portland, the local mill grew considerably. The Chattanooga Times reported on July 12, 1959 that capacity was being increased from 5,000 to 8,500 bags per day as a result of a half-million dollar expansion. New machinery would make it the largest mill in the southeast.

On March 27, 1964, the Chattanooga Times reported another expansion at Dixie-Portland. A 135-foot tall, one million bushel grain elevator was being erected in less than ten days. The Southern Railway helped to relocate tracks closer to the elevator, so that 200,000 pounds of wheat could be unloaded in five minutes from two railroad cars.

In the mid-1960’s, Dixie-Portland was known locally and regionally for its Gingham Girl brand flour. The grocery shelf appeal came from the brand’s gingham sacks. Gingham Girl was a sponsor of the Stoneman Family television show, which was part of the late Saturday afternoon block of country music shows on WRCB-TV Channel 3. Roni and Donna Stoneman wore gingham skirts on the show. The Flatt and Scruggs show was also sponsored by a brand of flour, the aforementioned Martha White, with Lester, Earl, and the boys playing the famous Martha White jingle each week.

In 1989, ADM Milling, a subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland, acquired Dixie-Portland Flour Mills from Tyson Foods. ADM still maintains an operation on King Street, with the 2008 city directory listing fifty-eight employees engaged in corn processing and flour milling.

If you have memories of any of the milling operations on King Street, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

Gingham Girl was among several local products advertised in 1965 sequicentennial guidebook for Chattanooga.  Click to enlarge.
Gingham Girl was among several local products advertised in 1965 sequicentennial guidebook for Chattanooga. Click to enlarge.

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