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New Life for a 100-Year-Old Flour Mill

CCA LiveE | Tuesday February 7th, 2012 | 2 Comments

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

By: JM Hutch
The Hayden Flour Mill currently stands derelict and deserted like a sentinel at the century-old cornerstone entry to the city of Tempe at the base of a hill steps away from the Salt River.

Upon moving to Arizona over 15 years ago, I passed the mill every day curious to explore the abandoned site. I spent a year studying the mill at ASU.  I learned that for over 120 years, it manufactured some of the highest quality refined and enriched “Rose” brand flour in the American Southwest.  It stands as a lonely icon for the city of Tempe for over a dozen years without being demolished because it encapsulates the qualities of its founder, Charles T. Hayden and his commitment to founding the community in the middle of the Sonoran desert.

Dozens of proposals have come forward to re-purpose the land and structure, but they lack a vision that represents the spirit of the city´s founder who established the mill and a ferry service for crossing the Salt River. Charles encouraged men to work at the mill and live in his on-site housing until they could settle down. He helped entrepreneurs to open banks, bars, restaurants and stores along Mill Street.  Charles and his wife, Sally, turned their adjacent adobe hacienda into a hotel, blacksmith shop, post office and general store.  Hayden’s son, Carl, grew up to become a sheriff, cavalry soldier and congressman, serving more than 57 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Carl is one of the most important figures in Arizona history.

With a history such as this, what do you do with this iconic flour mill? Are we doomed to handing the site over to developers to build an office complex or retail mall? For such a heroic past, is the current mill nothing more than a glass and steel hotel with a museum and retail at its base? With all the failed proposals, is the city afraid that the site will never again carry the same meaning to the community that it once did, ever again? Is the city afraid that it will shrink in the humble humiliation to finally give up and demolish the scrap heap and its memories lost?

What if the mill is doing exactly what it is suppose to be doing for the community? As it sits at the entry gates of the city, it empowers you to look up at its majestic form that flows so naturally into the mountain behind, the vibrant hospitality of Mill Street to one side, and the Tempe Townlake recreational site on its other side. It peaks your curiosity and you are naturally drawn towards it so you can experience the concrete form has over 18″ thick walls and stands 168 feet tall. The site architecture is an engineering study that now stands as a monument to the industrial revolution, and one of the oldest industrial sites in Arizona.

If we look at the site as the epitome of the industrial revolution, we may also want to widen the lens and recognize that all this incredible growth came at the cost of indigenous native ancestors of the land who were forced onto Indian reservations by the Calvary.  For hundreds of years prior to Charles’ arrival, the Tohono (desert) and Akimel (river) O’odham Indians lived off the southwestern Arizona Sonoran desert land.  Their way of life depended upon floodplain and irrigation farming in areas along the rivers.  In the drier desert regions, they hunted and gathered wild foods including prickly pear, tepary beans, wild squash, wheat, and seed pods from the mesquite trees that lined the rain gullies.

The Indian way of life changed abruptly when Arizona settlers built canals and dams that diverted much of the irrigation used by the Indians disrupting their ancient agricultural practices.  Ancient foods hold many nutrients, and our modern foods are hybrids.  During the industrial revolution, we made modifications to foods so they looks better, grows faster, or have a longer shelf life.  For wheat, we took out the germ in the center.  It holds most of the nutrients, but becomes rank quickly.  Once removed, refined, and bleached for flavor, it can, for the first time in American history, move across vast distances across the country due to the railroad.

During the 19th and 20th century, the Indians were forced to participate in a government-subsidized food program for migratory and agricultural workers.  The tribe’s members lost touch with their ancient ways of growing, preparing and eating indigenously. As a result, the O’odham Indians have the highest rate of diabetes of any other group in America, with 50% of their population dying from it.  When their diet was changed to include highly processed flour and other starchy foods, they were simply incompatible with their metabolism.  The negative legacy of this change is an extreme example of how processed foods affect Americans today.

If the site has the tools to produce flour, why not switch from mass production to an artisan process?  By using mesquite seed pods and ancient seeds, the Hayden Flour Mill would send a message that Tempe is committed to whole foods production and fighting diseases.  Thus, a once-proud symbol of community and progress, that became an unwitting agent in the adoption of an unhealthy diet, could now be transformed and repurposed as an economic center for health and wellness through the 21st century reapplication of ancient, indigenous agriculture, food preparation and culinary practices.

JM Hutch is an interior designer by profession at Gensler and teaches the senior architecture and interior design studio at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

[Image credit: Visage Creative]


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  • Sheryl Chiaramonte

    Excellent information and ideas.  If it can be restored to produce once again, why not let it do just that and also act as a museum to raise money to keep it operating and selling high quality flour.  I too love the building and worry what may become of it.  If you think you may put a committee together or if there is one, I would love to help in some way.

  • Mrthreettwo

    You should check out the people who are doing just that: http://www.haydenflourmills.com. While they are not in the iconic building they are using ancient grains and providing freshly ground flour from their stone ground mill. They even use the traditional Hayden mills flour bag. So it looks like your wish has been granted!