MIDWAY, Ky. - Ernest “Mac” Weisenberger has definitely noticed an increase in sales five months after Weisenberger Mill became part of a historic partnership between Kroger and Kentucky Proud.
“We’ve had more sales, absolutely,” Weisenberger said, since Kroger began selling 125 products from 34 Kentucky Proud producers in 88 stores throughout Kentucky last November.
One of Kroger’s TV commercials to support the campaign features Weisenberger’s son, Philip, and scenes of Kentucky’s oldest water-powered commercial flour mill in action.
“I’ve had a lot of comments from people who saw the commercial, saying how good it was,” Mac said. “Kentucky Proud has given us a lot of exposure, which has led to increased sales.”
Mac said he hasn’t had a chance to sit down to total up how much more money the mill has been taking in through increased Kroger sales. That’s because, in early April, neighboring South Elkhorn Creek overflowed its banks, flooding the mill with three feet of muddy water.
“Motors [which provide most of the power for the mill] got wet, as well as a few pieces of equipment,” said Mac, whose mill resumed production April 9 after about six days off. “Water ruined three [containers] full of product from one of our warehouses.”
‘The American dream’
Mac and Philip are the fifth and sixth generations, respectively, of Weisenbergers who have been milling wheat and corn in the Bluegrass for more than 150 years.
“Weisenberger Mill is a true example of the American dream,” Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said.
The Weisenberger success story began in 1848, when young August Weisenberger left his home in Baden, Germany, and boarded a ship for a trans-Atlantic voyage to the United States.
“He was only 21 years old, so that was a pretty bold move,” Mac said. “He came in at Ellis Island.”
August’s travels took him to Pittsburgh, where the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers form the Ohio River. He took a riverboat down the Ohio, stopping for a time at Cincinnati and Louisville. He sailed as far west as St. Louis before retracing his route back up the Ohio to the falls at Louisville.
August, who had some millwright experience in his native Germany, settled in Woodford County and started milling near Spring Station in the mid-1860s. Twenty years later, he purchased a mill at the current site in southern Scott County.
'New' mill built
Built in the early 19th century, the mill was rebuilt in 1913 by August’s son, Philip I, using rock from the original mill. Mac’s grandfather, August II, kept the business going when his father died in 1936. Mac’s father, Philip II, took the reins in 1955.
Philip II developed specialty products before his death in 2008 that have enabled Weisenberger Mill to continue to prosper. In its early days, Weisenberger’s primary products were soft wheat flour and white cornmeal. The mill now churns out more than 70 products in various sizes, such as flour and cornmeal mixes for frying and baking as well as mixes for biscuits, pancakes, muffins, hush puppies, pizza crust, spoonbread, and even scones.
Weisenberger Mill is like a trip into the past. From a one-lane girder bridge over Elkhorn Creek to the climb up two flights of narrow stairs lightly dusted in white flour, people can barely carry on a conversation above the noisy churning and sifting of its century-old, cast-iron machinery.
“If something breaks down, we can’t go to a store and buy a part,” said Philip III. “We either have to make a new part or find one off an old machine.”
Two water-driven turbines generate electricity for the mill, which can produce 150 100-pound bags of flour, all bagged by hand, in 24 hours. In contrast, larger, modern mills can produce about 1 million pounds during the same time.
Past meets present
Weisenberger is one of very few small mills left. Mac said there were 5,000 mills in the U.S. in 1950, but that number has dwindled to just over 650 currently, according to a list maintained by Manta.com.
“Weisenberger Mill grinds its products the old-fashioned way,” Commissioner Comer pointed out. “At the same time, it has adapted to the changing needs and demands of its customers. Where many other businesses have come and gone, Weisenberger Mill has survived and thrived. They are a great example for other small Kentucky Proud businesses to follow.”
The Kentucky Proud logo is displayed prominently on packages of Weisenberger products, and the name of the Kentucky farm that grew its wheat and corn is printed on most labels and boxes.
“I wish more Kentucky Proud businesses would put the name of the farm it came from,” Commissioner Comer told Mac.
Mac said Kentucky Proud has benefited Weisenberger Mill by giving “recognition to Kentucky products, and I like that.” He feels that printing the Kentucky Proud logo on Weisenberger products “gives us a little bit of an edge” in the competitive supermarket aisle.
To find out more about Weisenberger Mill, go to www.weisenberger.com.