EAGLE POINT — After watching fire devastate Butte Creek Mill Christmas morning, owner Bob Russell said Saturday he thinks a limited comeback is possible.
"Yesterday, I didn't think it was possible," said Russell, whose 143-year-old landmark water-powered flour mill was deemed a total loss after the predawn fire. "After taking a closer look today, I think there is hope."
To be sure, Russell said, a rebuilt mill would more closely resemble the original 1872 footprint, sans the country store, and operate on a smaller scale.
"It's never going to be a big-producing mill again, but think it's possible to make and sell flour," Russell said. "We won't be getting into the wholesale business. We'll leave that for somebody else."
Local and regional response to the loss of the National Register of Historic Places landmark on the western bank of Butte Creek has been little short of astounding.
"It's been overwhelming," Russell said. "All day long, hundreds of people have reached out, even when I walked out the door. The tears were flowing, people were coming up and hugging me."
With shoppers aware there weren't going to be Butte Creek Mill supplies anytime soon, products vanished from local store shelves. At Ray's Food Place in Eagle Point, Butte Creek flour and mixes was gone by mid-morning Saturday.
"They had just taken delivery of a three-month supply of our mixes and flour and they were gone by 9," Russell said. "It just disappeared."
"I've had tons and tons of people who have wanted to raise funds and do whatever to get the mill going again," Russell said. "The community is behind us and wants to get this mill back to grinding flour. We're going to try to do everything within our power to figure out how it can be done."
Equipment operators, photo restorers and contractors have offered their services along with others.
"I had an architect friend tell me it's possible," Russell said.
The 1,500-pound French mill stones used to grind grain into flour emerged surprisingly well, primarily because they were below most of the heat.
"I think they are going to be rock-solid," Russell said. "The beams and artifacts down there are in good shape, even the great big table down there is in good shape."
The real challenge may not be physical but regulatory.
"I'm need some professional advice from riparian people," he said. "We've got the historic footprint and I think we've got some grandfathered clauses in there. I think we can get this back on the historic register too."
Combing through the ashes and rubble, Russell recovered a variety of surprises.
Among the artifacts he recovered were a ball and chain from the Montana state penitentiary and a samurai sword his father brought back after his release from a World War II Japanese prisoner of war camp in Manchuria.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.