The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. The ABCs of Lowell History continues with a look at King Milling, one of Lowell’s oldest and most prominent businesses. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.
Flour mills have a long history in Lowell. The first mill was built by Cyprian S. Hooker in the 1840s on the east side of the Flat River. It was run by water power furnished from a dam on the Flat River and conducted to the mill by a race. This early mill was constructed of wood using logs floated down the river with the help of local Odawa. The mill became known as the Forrest Mill and transferred through several owners before the Wisner Bros. Mill sold it to King Milling Company in 1896. Forrest Mill was taken down in 1965.
A second mill was built on the west side of the Flat River in 1867 and named Superior Mill. The Superior Mill sold to local lumbermen Francis King, his son Frank T. King, Charles McCarty and Reuben Quick in 1890. They organized as King Milling Company and moved their former lumber office across town to become the flour mill office. The mill office can still be seen on Main Street. The purchase of the Forest Mill gave King Milling two flour mills, one on each side of the river.
In 1900, Thomas F. Doyle, also a lumberman, purchased part-ownership of King Milling and his three sons, Charles, Renis and William, went to work for the company. In 1936, William Doyle assumed management of the company. He oversaw operational improvements and King Milling’s volume of business increased substantially. William directed the construction of new water turbines under both mills. He also supervised the construction of a new concrete dam across the Flat River to power the mills.
In 1943 the Superior mill suffered a devastating fire. Facing building supply shortages due to WWII, the mill was rebuilt. The wooden mill was replaced with a new concrete mill with the most up to date milling equipment available. Only ten days after completing the new mill in 1945, William Doyle died. He left the mill to his wife, and two sons King, age 23 and Mike, age 15. King Doyle, who was serving in WWII in the Pacific, was granted a 90 day leave from the navy to return home and put his father’s affairs in order. While he was home the war ended.
Under King and Mike Doyle King Milling increased the production and storage capacity of the mill. They also implemented new transportation systems and were among the first to switch to pneumatic systems for conveying flour. The next generation represented by King’s son Brian and Mike’s sons Jim and Stephen have continued to modernize the mill making King Milling one of the first to fully automate operations.
Today King Milling remains family owned and continues to grow. The fourth and fifth generations of the Doyle Family now continue to run the longest running industry in Lowell. It has shaped the community from its earliest days continuing to the present and is one of only six flour mills remaining in Michigan.