Arts & CultureFeature

One French Buhr Millstone’s Unusual Journey to St. Paul

by David Lamb

When Bob Frame, an engineering historian at the engineering and architectural firm Mead & Hunt, looked across his recently re-landscaped yard at the corner of Goodrich Ave. and S. Leech in St. Paul, he knew there was something missing. A long triangular expanse, it seemed to draw the eye toward a point that was occupied by nothing in particular. For some time, he and his wife, Emily Ganzel, pondered what to put there.

Then the idea struck him — a historic millstone — and he persuaded Ganzel to get on board. As an expert currently writing a book about the history of flour milling in Minnesota for the University of Minnesota Press, Frame felt uniquely qualified to take on the project of finding and relocating an historical millstone, a process fraught with challenges considering the age and weight of the primitive devices.

He found his target on eBay, a millstone located in southern Illinois. Frame was drawn to it because he identified it as one composed of authentic French buhrs, the stones that were best for milling and the kind used in Minneapolis mills, once famous for their high-quality flour.

Ganzel and Frame rented a pickup truck to get the millstone, coordinating with heavy machinery operators in Illinois who could gingerly lift and load it. Frame left it with a friend in his back yard while he figured out how to install it.

For that, he consulted John Yust, a West 7th-based architect who focuses on historical endeavors and has played integral roles in prominent local projects such as the revitalization of the Waldmann Brewery site. Yust drew up what he thought would be an appropriate footing to secure the millstone. When that model turned out to be too complex, a blacksmith he worked with, Myron Hanson, modified it. Together, they prepared the four-foot wide and ten-inch thick base.

When they uncrated the millstone in Frame and Ganzel’s yard — the first time it had ever been taken out of the box in which he bought it — the individual buhrs came loose, several falling out. “That was a tense moment,” Yust later admitted. “At first, we didn’t know how to deal with the rocks. We were a little nervous.”

“Somehow, he projected full confidence,” Frame said.

Soon, Yust had devised a plan. He used two plywood boards to sandwich the millstone, keeping the stones in place while Dave Cunnien, another friend with historical rehabilitation experience, used an epoxy to glue the stones. They then tightened the metal rings that held the buhrs together.

The scheme worked. They attached it to a forklift with an extending boom, lifted it over the fence and lowered it into place on its stand.

“If I’d have guessed it would be so complicated and expensive to do all of this,” Frame confessed to a friend, “I might never have bought the millstone in the first place.”

But then, months later, in the midst of an entirely different architectural mission that involved delivering carved logs to a Swedish restaurant in Wisconsin, Yust stumbled upon an architectural salvage store. Inside, he found eight millstones. He called Frame to see if he might be interested in one.

The flour expert ended up buying them all.

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