August 16, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
A flouring mill, a brewery, an egg drying operation, a cheese processing plant and now a retail and apartment complex.
Riverview Flats is the fifth business development on the river front property along the Sauk River in downtown Melrose, continuing a vision by Edwin Clark, considered the “father of Melrose.”
The business history dates back to 1868. Cousins Edwin and William Clark built the Melrose Flouring Mill, where horse-drawn carts would carry freshly milled grain, according to “Main Street, Whiskey Street, and Other Business Locations: A Melrose Time Trip,” by Jean Paschke.
The Clarks initially built a 40-foot by 40-foot flour mill powered by three water wheels using water from the dam. Next to the mill was a cooper shop where barrels were made. One of those barrels is displayed at the Melrose Area Museum.
“Shortly after, the Clarks had so much work they had to enlarge the mill to 80 by 80,” said Roger Paschke, Melrose Area Historical Society president.
A bridge had not been built so a massive wheel running on cables with a bosun’s chair slung below it and carried people across the river to the mill.
The cousins eventually had a falling out, and Edwin bought William’s share of the mill.
Edwin sold his milling products to the military at Forts Abercrombie and Ransom in North Dakota and Fort Pembina in Minnesota.
“That enabled him to build more buildings in Melrose and his beautiful house,” Roger Paschke said.
Edwin left Melrose after the Panic of 1893. One year later John Hoeschen purchased the mill and sold his product, Melrose Best Flour, with the slogan “What You Knead.” Other owners/operators followed Hoeschen, and toward the end it manufactured just feed.
After being out of business for a few years, in 1933 the property was purchased by Twin Cities businessmen and the building was demolished to build the Schatz-Brau Brewery. An ad in the Melrose newspaper listed 63 citizens and businesses who welcomed them to town.
By 1934, the building was finished, but the company was broke. “Not a single barrel of Schatz-Brau was ever brewed, and the building was abandoned,” Paschke’s book read.
One of the few reminders of the never opened Melrose brewery is a sign displayed at the museum, which reads, “Now It’s Schatz-Brau. The Old Fashioned Brew. Yes. It’s Made with Pure Spring Water.”
In 1942, the tower of the abandoned brewery was used as an observation perch by the Melrose Civil Defense trying to avert the possibility of enemy bombers attacking Melrose. Fifty-two people equipped with binoculars and identification charts volunteered to serve three-hour watches, at first on the roof of city hall, before moving to the tower.
The remainder of the Schatz-Brau building was eventually renovated into an egg drying plant. The newly-developed science of dehydrating eggs made it possible to get perishable foods to troops in war zones.
“It became an egg drying plant because it was World War II, and they dried eggs and shipped it overseas for the troops,” Roger Paschke said.
A 130-foot smokestack went up in September of 1942 and Dried Foods Processors, Inc., went into business drying, dehydrating and shipping eggs overseas.
During the May 1, 1943, plant ceremony, Isabell “Teenie” Flock (Wiehoff), a junior at Melrose High School at the time, was crowned queen of the egg plant dedication. Custard pie made from dried egg powder and baked at the Kind and Swany White Bakeries was served. Mark T. McKee, president of the Nation Egg Dryers, Inc., spoke.
“We are very proud of our Melrose plant and of the cooperation that the citizens and city of Melrose are giving us,” he said during the dedication.
Carloads of eggs came in from North Dakota. Some eggs weren’t fresh when they left home, let alone when they arrived at the plant, the book read. Quality control women stood at the counters eight hours a day under the watchful eyes of white coated female supervisors. They broke eggs one by one into cups and smelled them for freshness.
Due to a reduced government request for egg powder, in November 1943, Dried Food Processors went out of business and sold their building to Kraft, Inc.
The building was transformed into a modern dairy food production plant. By December 1943 Kraft was making milk powder, and by May 1944 it was processing cheddar cheese and 90 barrels of skim milk powder per day. The basement held more than 2 million pounds of government lard waiting to be shipped to Europe.
By 1949 employees were producing Swiss cheese exclusively, with mozzarella, blue, Colby, muenster, American and other soft cheese products added to its production line. Toward the end, it processed only blue cheese.
At first milk was hauled to the plant in milk cans. Later, contracted milk haulers picked up milk from dairy farmers and delivered the milk to Kraft’s new plant for handling milk tank milk. Drive-through stalls provided unloading facilities for four trucks at a time. Among the independent milk haulers around 1966, according to museum information, were Ervin Duevel, Marvin Kemper, Elmer Moonen, Larry Hinnenkamp, Donald Zirbes, Bill Kemper, Art Engelmeyer, Joseph Beuning, Leroy Blommel, Bernard Beuning, Ervin Beuning, Ervin Koopmeiners, Clarence Zenzen, Eugene Moening, Alvin Zenzen, Arthur Zenzen, John Nathe, Oscar Moonen, Donald Wessel, Henry Schiffler, Wayne Schiffler, Elmer Schneider, Albert Hinnenkamp, William Fuchs and Martin Kalthoff.
A plan to close the plant was halted when a group of community leaders gathered at a local restaurant and listed on a napkin the reasons why this should not happen. As a result the plant expanded instead of closing, according to Paschke’s book.
In 1968, a second cheese processing plant – Kraft-east – was opened on the southeast side of town after it was determined the Melrose area had “many productive dairy farms and hardworking citizens,” making Melrose the only town in the nation with two Kraft plants – Kraft-west and Kraft-east, Paschke’s book read.
A fire broke out on the Kraft-west roof, following a small explosion in the paint room, Jan. 20, 1989, with firefighters from Melrose, Sauk Centre and Freeport extinguishing the fire. The fire was out but the building was in ruins, leaving the 45 workers without job. A group of Melrose businessmen bought the site but failed to develop it as a commercial property, the book stated.
The city of Melrose was deeded the former Kraft-west lot Oct. 20, 1994. In 1995 demolition of the building began. A plaque, which Kraft had installed on the south wall, was recovered along with a time capsule. There was no trace of the brewery cornerstone or of Clark’s water wheel, which supposedly was still buried deep under the basement level.
In early 2023, the property was sold to Riverside Development Group of St. Cloud, and it is being developed into a 29-unit apartment complex with underground parking and five retail spaces on the main level. It is expected to open summer of 2024.
Clark’s vision to bring businesses to Melrose continues.