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Washington Flour: 1926

Washington, D.C., circa 1926. "Wilkins-Rogers Milling Co., exterior, 3261 Water Street." The Washington Flour mill on K Street, formerly Water Street, in Georgetown. The Washington Flour brand had a retail presence at least into the late 1960s. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1926. "Wilkins-Rogers Milling Co., exterior, 3261 Water Street." The Washington Flour mill on K Street, formerly Water Street, in Georgetown. The Washington Flour brand had a retail presence at least into the late 1960s. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Rendering plant?

Does anyone remember the name of the rendering plant that produced the horrible smell? My mother grew up in Georgetown and I remember her mentioning the business by name and telling me that it had been there since the late 19th century. The name sounded German, as I recall.

Flour Power

The firm's ads used the phrase "water-ground" to describe its flour. When the original water-powered belt transmission system was replaced with a water-powered electrical generator and motors, permission was granted by authorities (FTC?) to continue using the the phrase.

I, too, remember that sign.

Pirateer has it almost exactly right. The sign was set at such a height as to be easily readable -- indeed, impossible to ignore -- from the Whitehurst Freeway.
It read:


I know, because my sister and I used to read it aloud in unison at the top of our lungs whenever we passed by. I'm sure our parents looked forward to those drives.

My mom, who is quite an accomplished oil painter, did a rendering (as it were) of the old plant that is at once realistic and beautiful. I'll have to ask if she still has it.

Odor in area

I remember the odor from the area. I was told it was the tannery next door to the mill. Makes sense as a tannery does smell. My best friend's father worked at the mill until his retirement.

Pennsy box car

That old box car is known as a X-26 single sheathed car. It was built in March 1925. The last car of that series was retired about 1958. Been around the block a few times.

Note the old wooden boxcar

with the "outside" metal frame. I recall seeing boxcars of this construction well into the 1960s.

My Grandfather

My grandfather Harrison Goolsby was caretaker of Mr. Wilkins's 365-acre farm, Grassy Meade, off Mount Vernon Boulevard in the 1940s. You could also get to it from Fort Hunt Road. I surely wish I could find a picture of the old place. Mr. Wilkins's daughter sold out to the contractor, Gosnell, who developed it into Waynewood Estates.

I would appreciate any help on this matter. Everybody's pretty much died after all these years. My mom and dad lived in the lower house.

Thanks ever so much, Edgar

Under the Freeway

By the 1960's, this was about as "industrial" as Washington got. Under the Whitehurst Freeway you had Washington Flour, Maloney Concrete and the rendering plant, all adjacent to the Pepco power plant. The DMV also had its impound lot down there on the banks of the then horribly foul-smelling Potomac. On the north side of K Street were a number of clubs, jazz, blues & live performance, including the infamous Bayou. In the '60s and '70s, while preppy Georgetown students and affluent trend-setters populated the clubs and restaurants above M Street (the 3rd Edition, Pall Mall, Charing Cross, etc.), it was a very different scene below M and down under the freeway! By the late '80s it was essentially gone, gentrified away.

Behind the Grain Door

In order to keep the grain from leaking out of the the car during it's long transit from the wheat belt to the flour mill, the boxcars in the photo would have their
doorway openings fitted with wooden grain doors, effectively sealing the interior of the car. The car's sliding door would cover the grain door. As show on one of the cars, upon arrival at their destination, the upper boards would be removed and depending upon the facility's equipment, the grain would be shoveled out of the car or unloaded with a mechanical conveyor. By the mid-20th century, wooden grain doors were replaced by ones made of thick paper with light wooden frames. Some of these were reinforced with metal banding. Today, all grain product is shipped in covered hopper cars. Grain is loaded from the top and unloaded from the bottom of modern cars. It is interesting to note that the B&O double door car was designed to carry automobiles.

Many cars tended to be seasonal in their use and thus tended to have multiple duties - all part of maintaining a steady revenue stream for the railroad who built and operated these cars.

A Grind in Georgetown

Washington Post, Feb 29, 1940

Lone Flour Plant Grinds on Canal

Washington's flour industry is built partly in a modern city's demand for bread, partly in a century and half of tradition.

The city's only flour plant is the Wilkins Rogers Milling Co., at Potomac and K streets northwest. It is housed in two buildings, one more than 100 years old with brick walls 2 feet thick, used formerly as cotton plant, ice plant, flour mill, and now office and warehouse. The other is a modern six-story concrete, brick and steel structure, building in 1922 and housing the present mill.

The plant is on a hill between the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Potomac River. The canal, which used to bring loaded grain barges from the upland farms to feed the Georgetown mills, now supplies all the power used in the mill.

The last century, Georgetown boasted a dozen mills at one time, eight flour mills and four grist mills. Some of the flour went down the Potomac and away to European markets.

Now the grain comes in by truck and railroad to the K street side of the mill. In the American milling industry, the Wilkins Rogers firm counts itself at the "end of the line," since the flour centers have shifted to the Middle West.

Operators of the mill are Howard L. Wilkins and Samuel H. Rogers. Without exaggeration they could be cast in the roles of traditional "jolly millers." Or they could be typed as businessmen who picked up a dead business and built it to a $2,000,000 annual volume.

Wilkins is 73 and president of the firm. He was born in New Jersey, but grew up on a farm near Mount Vernon. His family farm was near the old Dogue Run Mill, built by George Washington, a coincidence that takes added note because Wilkins helped remodel the mill. He was educated in Washington schools.

Rogers, 61-year-old vice president, is the son of a Loudoun County miller, who taught him the flour business. He is the father of four boys, and would like to see at the least the oldest one go into the same business. Outside the mill his main hobby is raising thoroughbred horses in his Loudoun County farm.

The two joined in 1915 to take over the old Arlington Mill, built in 1847, according to a stone plaque in the wall of the new mill. It had been closed for three years. Their friends advised them against the venture. They went ahead, caught a slice of war-trade by selling flour to Italy, and later turned the mill over to producing flour for America's World War needs.

The old mill and its machinery were destroyed in a fire, July 4, 1922. The modern mill was built at the same site.

At first glance the inside of the mill gives the impression that it was never finished. The interior is like a building still under construction, a tangle of girders, of gigantic funnels, pipes running at all angles, with a network of power belts winding endlessly from floor to floor. Later you find that girders, funnels, pipes, belts are all parts of one huge machine, which transforms whole grain to flour, and corn to meal, with never a hand touching it.

Corn and wheat are mostly purchased directly from farms within a 75-mile radius.

Re: Bulb changing

It seems to me that the only reasonable way is for the reflectors to move to the roof somehow. One can envision the 5 poles on the left being detached at their bases and pulled in while suspended by their guys. The three poles on the right would maybe pivot upwards at their bases, pulled by their guys, to workers on the ledge. Sounds awfully complicated. There must be a more clever way.

A small correction

The street that runs by the old flour mill and later beneath the Whitehurst freeway is K Street N.W. I used to police this area for some ten years while with the M.P.D.C. 1959-1969.

[The street than ran by the flour mill was Water Street, which became K Street after the Georgetown street renaming of 1895. People evidently continued to call that stretch Water Street for years afterward. - Dave]

Objectionable Odors

I seem to recall that in the 70's there was a rendering plant on Water Street that made quite a stink, and that from the freeway, you could see a sign painted on that flour mill that said "The objectionable odors that you may notice in this area do not originate from this plant."

The buildings

It's so great that the two buildings in the picture have survived, and it seems with very few exterior changes. As you travel in the Google videos it's plain to see the brick work and architecture is basically the same as when the picture was taken. I love those Google shots.

[Actually both buildings are only about three-quarters their original size; their river-facing sides were lopped off by the Whitehurst Freeway. They started out rectangular but ended up as trapezoids. - Dave]

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A Georgetown fixture for years

If I'm not mistaken, this mill building was a fixture of the Georgetown waterfront area until a few years ago. Our grade school class visited there once. Those sun-drenched bricks and railroad tracks were later shadowed by an elevated expressway, and that blank facade could be seen close to the roadway. The bricks can still be seen peeking out from underneath the asphalt in places.

[These buildings still stand next to the Whitehurst Freeway, where the expressway (built in 1949) crosses Potomac Street. They're part of an office complex at 1000 Potomac that sold for $50 million in 2007. - Dave]

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View Larger Map

Bulb changing

Does anyone else wonder how they changed the bulbs in those sign lamps perched six stories up? In those days bulbs had to be changed often and they didn't have bucket trucks back then.

Cadillac Pickup

Somebody give us the dope on that odd truck in the lower right is it a Caddy or what?

[It's a pickup truck that belongs to the Washington Cadillac Co. - Dave]


I'm not sure when W-R stopped milling in D.C., but the company still has mills in Ellicott City, on a site that has had a mill since the Ellicott brothers went into business there in 1772. The only product that still bears the Washington brand name, though, is its self-rising flour. Washington also makes Indian Head corn meal, which is the best.

Check out the boxcars...

The front two cars are from the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania railroads.

I always went for the RR's in Monopoly, it's fun to see the real deal!

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