Modern mill carries on an Ellicott City tradition History: The town's founders used water power to grind flour at the site of today's Wilkins-Rogers plant, but the similarities end there.

December 02, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Two years after Ellicott brothers Joseph, Andrew and John settled in the area that would bear their name, they developed Ellicott City's first industry -- a flour mill on the banks of the Patapsco River on what is now Frederick Road.

Two centuries later -- true to the town's roots -- a flour mill still stands on that spot.

But the similarities between the original and the modern mill end there.

The Ellicotts milled 150 barrels of flour a day using grindstones powered by the river. Today, the river is a scenic backdrop to an 11-acre manufacturing plant that uses million-dollar machines to mill and package 350,000 pounds of flour a day, along with thousands of pounds of cornmeal, baking mixes and poultry breading.

In the 1700s, a pioneering spirit helped run the mill. These days, some of the modern plant's 110 employees have degrees in milling from Kansas State University.

The present-day mill is big business -- about $50 million a year.

Wilkins-Rogers Inc., a family owned business run by the third generation of the Rogers family, operates the state's only commercially viable flour mill -- one that uses grains grown by farmers from Howard County and throughout the region for its products.

It produces Washington-brand flour and baking mixes, Mrs. Crutchfield fat-free and low-fat muffin mixes, Raga Muffin easy mix for children and Indian Head cornmeal. The company ships its brands along the East Coast and exports them to Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

Wilkins-Rogers also provides chicken breading and biscuit mix to such national chains as Kenny Rogers restaurants, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Roy Rogers. It sells flour to Mrs. Smith's, Tastykake and major pretzel companies such as Snyder's and Hanover.

The mill also produces and packages flour for Giant, Safeway and Super Fresh grocery stores.

But the company is considered small in the milling industry. Its baking mixes compete with Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, whose annual sales are in the billions, as well as other huge flour manufacturers such as General Mills.

Yet Wilkins-Rogers has earned a stellar reputation regionally and internationally, said Roy Henwood, president of the Millers' National Federation.

"Milling is a hard business," Henwood said. "But Wilkins-Rogers has done well because its products are priced competitively, and it's always looking for a specific niche."

Wilkins-Rogers is the first company to develop fat-free muffin mixes, said Leon R. Gleaves, the mill's vice president of marketing and sales. "We're right on the cutting edge," he said. "We try to be innovative."

The business is outgrowing its Ellicott City home and might relocate in a few years, Gleaves said.

The company moved to Ellicott City in 1969 from Georgetown in Washington.

But no matter where the mill is located, it will always exist, said plant manager Patrick Kindelan. "Flour is food, and everybody has to eat," he said. "Business will always be consistent."

Pub Date: 12/02/96

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