Bicycles + Heritage = Thompson’s Mills
By Alexandra Phillips
What happens when cyclists on new carbon fiber bicycles meet up with equipment from the 1850s? This was exactly the scene on a sunny July day when the Cycle Oregon weekend ride of 2,000 cyclists stopped at Thompson’s Mills State Heritage Site near Shedd for lunch.
Hundreds of cyclists lined up to get a guided tour of the only water-powered mill in Oregon still being powered the same way it was in 1858. As it turns out, bicycles also have been powered the same way since 1858. Maybe that explained the cyclist’s enthusiasm for the mill.
Oregon state park rangers and the Boston Mill Society friends group (the mill was originally called “Boston Mill”) were on hand to greet the cyclists and answer questions. One Boston Mill Society volunteer was Roy Thompson, whose family is now the namesake for Thompson’s Mills.
The cyclists toured the basement of the mill and watched the water flow through the mill race, into the flume, and finally through the turbines. Cyclists then walked up upstairs — in that funny clumping walk reserved only for those wearing cycling cleats — to watch the water power machinery that was used to turn grain into animal feed.
Park Ranger Tom Parsons said it was great that Cycle Oregon came to Thompson’s Mills. Visitation to the mill increased after the event because of Cycle Oregon participants returning for a second look and others that heard about the mill from riders. He reported that many of the cyclists said they had no idea the mill existed and were amazed that the mill still worked. Perhaps fitting to his job, Tom rides a vintage mountain bike when he commutes to the mill.
Tom also praised Cycle Oregon and explained how “event organizers handled the whole operation with incredible efficiency from sorting the recycling to every detail of the clean-up.” He reported that by evening the only trace of the 2,000 cyclists’ visit, along with lunches, bike mechanic stand and even a music stage, were a few marks in the grass indicating where tables had been setup. And even those were gone by morning.
Alexandra Phillips is the Bicycle Recreation Coordinator for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.