In Lockport, the south bank of the Erie Canal beside the locks was home to many factories that utilized the powerful mill races to produce their products.
With its large painted "Wheatlet" sign on the side of a building, Franklin Mills Company stood out to those traveling on the canal. The sign was also a feature on the many period postcards showing the locks. Franklin Mills' business address was 731 Spring St., at the intersection with Garden Street.
The mill was a distance from the canal and the mill race on the south bank. How did it receive water power? I reached out to an expert on the canal mill races, Scott Geise. His records indicate the Franklin Mills factory received power from both the south mill race and Eighteen Mile Creek. The mill race left the canal bank and ran southeast, crossing under Market Street, and continued to Garden Street and the Franklin Mills. Garden Street, at the time, continued west across Exchange (Spring) Street.
The Franklin Mills Company had many health declarations for its main products, the breakfast food Wheatlet and Franklin Mills Flour. The company's ads proclaimed that its flour bore "the seal of approval of the medical profession.” Here is the text of one endorsement, in the American Medico-Surgical Bulletin, in 1897:
"The fine flour of the entire wheat, ground by the Franklin Mills Company, Lockport, N.Y., containing as it does all the phosphates, mineral salts, and gluten of the entire wheat, is recommended by many physicians for use in the preparation of food for those suffering from weak stomach, because it is easily digestible. Nourishing as it does every part of the body, it is held to be especially valuable in the diet of children.
Attention is directed to the advertisement of the Franklin Mills Company on another page of this issue."
Wheatlet was described as an unrefined/unbleached natural food with promises for relief of nervousness, indigestion, irritability, a morose disposition (sullenness), and help with “clever” work such as writing. Franklin Wheat Flour was claimed to be a brain food. It would help every nerve tissue and feed the nerves. The nervous and debilitated would be assisted.
The U.S. Commissary Department was a customer of Franklin Mill Co. and the company's ads highlighted Uncle Sam's endorsement as well.
The Franklin Mills building dates back to 1833 and was once owned by Governor Washington Hunt's family. Franklin Mills occupied the building from 1877 until 1907, when the structure was destroyed by fire on Nov. 4. After the fire, the company was reorganized and consolidated its operations in Batavia.
Today what remains of the Franklin Mills building can be found at 31 Exchange St.; the center stone section has a stone block dated 1833. This building is currently for sale.
Thanks to the Niagara County Historical Society, Niagara County Historians Office, Lockport Public Library, Dr. Scott Geise and realtor Maureen Walck for their assistance in preparing this article.
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“I play six instruments,
I’ve traveled to 46 states,
I’ve made friends in 13 countries and been honored by the president of Singapore,
I’ve met Oprah, been featured in Time magazine,
played in Carnegie Hall and in London and made a video for the Paralympics.
I have Down syndrome and this is my story.”
— Sujeet Desai
The Museum of disABILITY History, 3826 Main St., Buffalo, will host a free holiday music party by Sujeet Desai from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 1. Due to limited space, reservations are required. Obtain tickets by calling 629-3626.
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Lockport native Jim Boles is a senior researcher with the Museum of disABILITY History, focused on early care and healing in Niagara County. His US&J column “Abandoned History” is published every other week. Contact him via email at Jboles@people-inc.org.