Piece of Tempe history comes back to life as mill opens to the public

May 22, 2012

Tempe’s Hayden Flour Mill was the largest flour mill in the state -- until it closed in 1998.  For more than a decade the building has been boarded up and blocked off from the public. Now it has re-opened. KJZZ’s Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez reports. 

BILL MITCHELL: In ’61 the packing, all the flour packing was done right here. There was a machine here for 25, 50, 100-pound bags.

NADINE ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: As Bill Mitchell walks through the Hayden Flour Mill he remembers how the factory was set up fifty years ago.   

 MITCHELL: The warehouse that burned down had a breezeway and above that breezeway there was another room over here … where the flour went down there.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Mitchell was 20 when he first came to work at the mill as a floor sweeper in 1961. By the time he left two decades later, Mitchell was a supervisor. This building has been boarded-up and abandoned since the late 1990s -- until the city of Tempe decided to restore it last year. For Mitchell, this is a big deal.

MITCHELL: Shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears here. You think about what ifs. I got a great family. I got a great wife, great kids, grandkids. Had I not worked here would that have happened, I don’t know, probably not …so it’s good

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: The historic Hayden Flour Mill is an icon that can be seen from all directions. It stands on the busiest corner of downtown Tempe at the foot of the Town Lake bridge. It’s three stories high and the silo next to it rises higher still. Wheat farming was a booming industry in the 1800s. The mill was the wheat handling plant for local grocers. The building was twice destroyed in fires -- and in 1918 it was re-built with concrete.  By the late 1990s it permanently shut down. Since that time the property has been sealed off, vandalized and again set on fire. 

NANCY HORMANN: When you come across the bridge the first thing you saw was an eyesore … and it’s our name sake.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Nancy Hormann is the Executive Director of the Downtown Tempe Community, a non-profit responsible for the area’s economic development.

HORMANN: So to have this now be a welcoming community gathering place makes a big change for our downtown.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: The Rio Salado Foundation helped raise $350,000 through mostly private funding to complete the renovations. The mill is now a museum. Its windows are viewing areas into the building. Look inside and you’ll see the equipment once used to grind wheat.

CHRIS PETIFORD:  It was like a mystery before and now it’s revealed.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Chris Petiford is a Tempe resident. She says that when she heard about today’s public viewing she decided to come with her teenage son Ian.

PETIFORD: It sort of tells us where we came from. Since Ian was born in Arizona for him that’s his history. Right here

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Just to the left of Ian and his mom is a new concrete stage and a grassy area for picnics. Nancy Hormann says it will be a multi purpose venue for small concerts, movie nights, and even a yoga class space.

HORMANN: We’re gonna be more of a 15-hour city now than a night-time economy.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Visitors are now allowed to walk freely around the property.  But there’s still more work to be done. The Hayden Flour Mill’s grand opening is scheduled for September, after crews put finishing touches on the landscaping. 

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