©South County News/The Daily News, reprinted with permission
Have you ever shown up for an event on the wrong date? That’s what I did last weekend, a full two weeks early! My husband and I drove to the Cedar Creek Grist Mill for the annual apple cider event. The website says it’s the last Saturday in October, and I even penciled it in on the correct date on my calendar, so I have no excuse except that I craved apple cider.
When I as a teenager, my brother and his wife used to invite me to pick apples with them in old, forgotten orchards. Sometimes we would stay until dusk, hoping to see a bear…from the safety of the car, of course. We never did see one, but it was exciting to think we might.Some people couldn’t believe my brother would toss the apples into the press without checking for worms. He’d just reply, “A little protein never hurt anybody.”I could hardly wait until those apples had been pressed and the cider had been bottled to take my first taste of cider. It was sweet and tangy at the same time, and if it lasted long enough to start fermenting, it was full of effervescence.Cider is an autumn treat. It isn’t often that I hear of a place that produces fresh-pressed cider, so the event at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill was particularly appealing to me.The drive was highlighted by yellow and orange leaves against dark fir trees, and the deep red leaves of blueberry bushes. Light green fir seedlings sprouted up in fields beside the road. At one point, we could see Mt. St. Helens in the distance, bright white below a cottony white blanket of clouds.We turned onto Cedar Creek Road and descended into a thick forest of trees with trunks lit up by shafts of sunlight, trees with golden leaves at their feet. Once at the mill, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the back steps, listening to the soothing sounds of the swift creek. Autumn leaves lazily drifted along the slow-moving water in a nearby flume, where they gathered in a bunch, plugging the intake. A small waterfall thundered nearby under a canopy of golden maples.After lunch, we stood on the covered bridge where we could see spawning salmon in the creek below. The Cedar Creek Grist Mill is a National Historic Site, Washington’s only grain-grinding mill that still has its original structural integrity, is water-powered, and grinds with stones. The mill was built in 1876 by George Woodham and his two sons to grind the farmers’ grain into flour or livestock feed. Woodham only stayed until 1879, when he moved and took all of the equipment with him. Mike Lynch was the next owner, but it was seven years before the mill was put back into operation when Lynch leased it to Gustave Utter. Utter built a log dam upstream and constructed a flume. He also installed the same Leffel turbine that is in use today.Gustave Utter was often paid in shares of grain, so he used it to feed to the hogs he raised to sell. Utter stayed longer than the others, lasting until 1901 before moving on. Four years later, Gorund Roslund purchased the mill, but it was another four years until it was operational. He expanded the mill by adding a shingle mill, a machine shop, and a blacksmith shop. When Roslund’s son Victor died in the 1950’s, the State Fisheries Department bought the property. They removed the old dam and built a fish ladder. In 1961, the Fort Vancouver Historical Society leased the mill and registered it as an historic place. Then, in 1980, a group of volunteers organized The Friends of the Cedar Creek Grist Mill to save the operation. The flume, which extends 650’ up Cedar Creek, was completed in 1989. By November 11, 1989, the group was ready to grind wheat to celebrate the Washington Centennial.The mill is a working museum, with demonstrations taking place Saturdays from 1:00-4:00 and Sundays from 2:00-4:00. When we were there, volunteer Tom Henrich gathered visitors on the back porch to explain the history of the mill. Next, guests moved inside for a demonstration by volunteer Fred Shulz. Shulz, in overalls, boots, and a hat perched on his head of white hair, looked right at home in the mill, sitting casually on a galvanized grain-storage can with his arms folded across his chest, and his legs straight out in front of him, toes up, resting his boots on their heels. After his explanation, he and Tom started the mill, ground grains, and bagged samples for their guests.
A covered bridge over Cedar Creek was completed in 1994. People from around the world visit the covered bridge and grist mill, two scenic spots that are often photographed. Admission is free, and tours and field trips can be arranged by calling 360 225-5832. See www.cedarcreekgristmill.com or call for directions to the mill, which is about 9 scenic miles from Woodland. If you go on October 27th, you can probably sample the apple cider, and you might even get to see some spawning salmon.