In the fall of 1993, soon after the Oregon Trail Sesquicentennial, Bill and Ellen Lilja sent out invitations to a meeting titled “Beyond the Ruts” to discuss what could be done to help preserve Linn County’s historical structures. Some of those who attended stayed after the general meeting to focus, specifically, on how to save and preserve Thompson’s Mills.
In that meeting were the Liljas (who gave tours to historical Linn County locations), Martin Thompson (a Thompson family descendent), Connie Petty (an Albany Democrat- Herald reporter who took pictures and wrote many historical articles for the newspaper), Glenn Harrison (president of the Linn County Historical Society), and several others. The group’s primary concerns were that the mill owners couldn’t afford the upkeep and necessary repairs on the mill, and that they were interested in selling it. What would be done about the mill’s deterioration, and what would happen with new ownership?
Over a series of meetings we decided to form an organization called the Boston Mill Society (to recognize the historic name of the mill), elect officers, charge dues at a graduated rate, draft Bylaws, file paperwork to incorporate with the state (on June 6, 1994), and apply to be recognized as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization (effective June 23, 1994).
Bill Lilja was the initial President (for 2 years), Ellen was the first Secretary, Martin was the Vice President, and I was the Treasurer. We had the assistance of Kent Hickham, an Albany attorney who drafted the initial Bylaws, and Richard Stach, a Linn County Commissioner. Mr Stach got the support of the Commission to secure a grant funding a Feasibility Study that showed the positive economic impact of encouraging tourism to the mill, thus benefiting the county through heritage tourism. From the beginning, Peter Jensen attended the meetings to look out for the concerns of farmers along the Calapooia River. BMS members have included descendants of the builders and previous owners of the mill.
I won’t try to name all of the people interested in the mill’s preservation who have served on the Board, but some standouts are Roz Keeney (an expert in historic architecture who still serves with me on the Linn County Historic Resources Commission); Anne Catlin, who is the historic resources staff member for Albany and the Albany Landmarks Commission; Ellen Hamill, a photographer who provides art cards; and George Pugh, an area farmer and long-time Board member.
Following Bill Lilja, the BMS Presidents have been Martin Thompson (for 12 years); Brooks Cavin (for 2 years), who was involved with historic architecture and the U of O field school; Glenn Harrison (for 3 years, and the only member of the Board and an officer for all 20+ years up to 2014); and now Roy Thompson, a Thompson family member beginning his second year at the Society’s helm.
Over the years we wrote letters to gain support, placed articles in area newspapers, attended an Oregon State Parks Commission meeting to encourage state ownership of the mill, attended legislative hearings concerning the mill’s future, and followed the governor’s efforts to solve the “fish problem” in the Calapooia River. There were meetings concerning the Management Plan, and many meetings with the Calapooia Watershed Council. In the last 10 years of state ownership much has been planned and accomplished to preserve these old buildings.
With Martin Thompson’s urging we joined the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills, and were proud to host the 2009 SPOOM Conference, which used Ellen’s photo on the cover of the Summer 2009 “Old Mill News,” Martin’s article “Thompson’s Mills: A Little Bit of History,” and a refurbished roller mill as part of a conference workshop. That brought attention around the country.
Visitors to the mill enjoy the experience and tours provided by the Park’s staff and hosts. To date the mill has attracted visitors from every state, Washington, D.C., and 41 foreign countries, as can be seen by pins in the maps inside the mill. BMS Board members and volunteers continue and improve these efforts.—Glenn Harrison, May 2014