By 1875, a year after his father’s death, 27-year-old Gottlieb Jacob “Jakie” Burrer became the sole owner of the Sunbury Mill. In May of 1875 he married Samuel Shriver Gammill’s daughter Amy. Shrive built a home for the couple, which still stands at 47 North Columbus Street, across North Street from the mill site. It remained in the Burrer family until 2015.
Shrive Gammill kept his promise and built the Sunbury Mill, commonly called Burrer Mill, at 60 North Columbus Street. Foundations were laid for a frame structure for the mill and one of stone for the boiler and engine room. Since the new mill was to burn the excess slabs and saw-dust from Gammill’s saw mill and hoop factory to fire the new boiler, an exceptionally large and tall smoke stack was erected to permit burning of this fuel with safety in the quantities needed.
A steam engine purchased in Mt. Vernon was shipped by train to the trestle over the Big Walnut Creek. Because the trestle had collapsed and was being replaced, the machinery was loaded onto a wagon and pulled by ox to the mill. In the new Sunbury Mill, grain was ground between rotating grooved stones or burs made in France, cut in segments, shipped to Sunbury, and put back together with wide bands of thick steel. In 1996 one of these segments was preserved in the patio of Jakie’s home at 46 N. Columbus Street. Its mate was in the custody of R. F. Sherfy, who lived near the Big Walnut Creek east of Sunbury.
In 1879, Jakie and his wife Amy transferred the deed to the old Burrer (Bailey, Boyd) Mill to Jakie’s sister Louisa and her husband Henry Fleckner, where it became part of the quarry. The Fleckners built their house at 10 Walnut Street where they had two children. Some of the old stone foundation of the mill can be seen near the creek. In 2016, Dan Schwartz is restoring the house.
Jakie and Amy became the parents of five boys: Sprague (named after Jakie’s former partner) was born in 1876, Karl in1879, Parker in1886, Rudolph in 1888 and Gordon in 1894.
Sprague was 10 years old when he was playing with two of his brothers and two of his cousins and was caught in the mill machinery and carried to the top of the mill and back to the basement 4 times before the father and uncle could stop the machinery and free the child. Sprague lost both feet and his life that afternoon. The other four boys grew to adults at the mill.
Sunbury Mill flourished. Farmers brought their grain from miles around by wagon or horseback and often had to wait hours for their turn to get grain milled. Amy Burrer was not a great cook but she was expected to feed waiting farmers. She served pancakes from flour ground at the mill. When she was stressed or busy Amy cooked beans. She became known for both, but many people remembered her for being frugal.
Coal was delivered to Sunbury houses and businesses and sent down chutes into basements. Amy timed her walks around town to follow coal deliveries. This gave her the opportunity to pick up coal dropped by deliverymen and take it home to add to the family’s coal supply.
To Louise Sheets, Aunt Amy Burrer was very special. Each summer Louise came over the corduroy road from Delaware to spend a week visiting her Aunt Amy. Since Amy had only boys, she was delighted to have the little girl. She took Louise shopping – a special treat because her mother made all her clothes. As an adult, Louise Sheets owned The Little Shop – an upscale dress shop on South Vernon Street north of the Drug Store where she also sold Hummel figurines and prints.
The mill’s stone buhrs were replaced with steel rollers in 1886 and the Sunbury Mill was known for its White Loaf Flour and Red-A-Mix pancake flour that was shipped locally and overseas. During World War I Herbert Hoover’s Belgium War Relief needed flour so G. J. Burrer and Sons sent White Loaf Flour to Europe in sturdy white linen bags. The bags were stamped with the mill’s logo in bright colors.
In Charleroi, Belgium, Alice Gugenmeim’s family had a warehouse of embroidery thread, which had been used by the embroidery workers prior to the war. Because of the war there was no material to embroider and the workers were out of business. She could find no bleach to remove the writing on the flour sacks but the fabric was good and strong. Women began enhancing the sack’s designs to use as lampshades, wastebaskets, tea cozies, pillow covers and, even school smocks.
The embroidered items were sold on a prominent street in Brussels and yielded tens of thousands of gold-standard francs for Belgium War Relief. In appreciation some of the school children embroidered 500 of the bags and sent them to Herbert Hoover. One of the enhanced Sunbury Mill bags was put on display in the Hoover Peace Tower. A replica is in the Community Library archives.
Electricity for the Sunbury community became a bi-product of the mill, but that’s a story for another day.
And Now You Know …
Myers Inn Museum Curator Horn wrote this article for Sunbury’s Bicentennial.