For some 40 years, the Thorp Grist Mill stood unused, even though its value was recognized by its owner and by local artists, historians, and others in Thorp and the Kittitas Valley. Restoration was deemed an expensive project, and there seemed no hope of obtaining the necessary funds until a request for community centennial projects raised the hopes of a few former Thorp High School students.
The Thorp Mill Town Historical Society began when a handful of these graduates decided, for the sake of nostalgia, to preserve the old gristmill located near the edge of town. But in conducting research for the task, they found the mill’s history embodied many of the best ideals of the American spirit — the restless independence that drove the cattle-running Thorps and Splawns into the wild country of the Kittitas Valley; the pioneering spirit that brought J.S. Mills over the mountains from Puget Sound; and the ingenuity that linked two mills, a log pond, an ice pond, and eventually even an electric power plant into one integrated system.
Research also revealed that although local mills were once the center of most small communities, nearly all of them are gone now, destroyed by fire or dismantled during the Second World War. In addition, the North Star Mill’s unique combination of functions and its early production of electricity drew the interest of industrial historians nationwide. The Mill is, therefore, not just a local landmark, but a national treasure, nearly the last of its kind—a reminder of an American spirit that is all too often forgotten.
This knowledge laid a two-fold responsibility on the Historical Society: to preserve the mill for the benefit of the local community and to make it available for the benefit of all Americans seeking to understand their culture and history. To this end, the Historical Society now devotes itself to developing the mill site both as an interpretive site and as a gathering place for community activities, helping to maintain both a close sense of community and the enterprising spirit that is Thorp’s heritage.
Along with the restoration and development of the North Star mill site, the Historical Society is currently at work expanding this website to include a unique genealogy database where descendants of Kittitas County’s pioneer families will be able to find not only text-based genealogical information, but also photos of individual family members and historical photos of the Thorp area.