The past and future of the Hayden Flour Mill in Tempe collided Thursday as archaeologists announced that they’d found the original foundation of the mill and a developer revealed plans to restore the historic building.
The activities made for one of the best days for the mill after nearly a decade of bad developments — the mill’s 1998 closing, a fi re that destroyed part of the structure and a nasty legal battle between the city and a developer.
Now Tempe’s biggest downtown developer, Avenue Communities, is planning a $500 million project that would restore the mill and add shops, restaurants and condos.
The Phoenix-based company, which also is building the 30-story Centerpoint Condominiums downtown, intends to do the mill restoration and construct some of the new buildings next year.
Before that starts, archaeologists are finishing what could be the last chance to scour the site before new buildings make future exploration impossible.
And they dug up more than expected. One big find was a crude rock and concrete foundation from the original adobe mill, built in 1874. It had been assumed the current building was on top of the old one and would have forever hidden clues about one of Tempe’s first buildings. But the foundation was just a bit north of the current mill.
“We were surprised to find that there,” said Bob Stokes, a principal investigator with Tempe-based Archaeological Consulting Services.
Workers also are confident they’ll find a preserved stone arch against the north side of the mill. The arch was part of a canal system that brought water to the mill and powered it before electricity. That arch is under a 4-foot thick concrete foundation and should be unearthed within weeks.
Archaeologists also found a concrete- and rock-lined canal in good condition despite countless renovation projects at the site.
“I’m amazed that we got the whole story of the canal, that it’s still there and wasn’t demolished,” said Victoria Vargas, the principal investigator with Archaeological Consulting Services.
The city is spending $1.5 million on archaeological work that will end on the site in December. The firm will then do more research of old newspaper clippings and other sources to piece together a more complete history of the mill. That includes interviewing former employees on tape to preserve their experiences at what was the state’s longestrunning industrial operation.
It’s already clear the mill was a tough place to work, Vargas said. She’s spoken with employees who recalled toiling in a building with no heat, no cooling, roaring machinery and a fine powder that covered everything.
The workers complained, Vargas said, but they also talked about how their jobs put food on their table.
“There’s an enormous pride,” Vargas said. “You worked hard. That was the American work ethic.”
One discovery that needs more research is a hastily constructed wall unearthed north of the mill. It appears dirt was hauled in to fill a hole, possibly from a flood in the 1930s. Stokes wants to research newspapers to see what might have happened.
Meanwhile, Avenue Communities is finalizing development plans for the restoration and buildings project. The company will move its headquarters to the mill while adding buildings around it for restaurants and shops. One of Avenue’s partners, Ken Losch, said he’s talking with three local restaurant operators about businesses, including a bakery, oyster bar and steakhouse.
Losch said he’s thinking about having water flow through the old canal, displaying the stone arch and incorporating other features that date back to the 1800s, but he added his company hasn’t finalized plans yet.
Losch expects to start work next year. Within 18 months, he wants to restore the mill and add a glass enclosure in back to display milling equipment. Avenue also would add a glass-enclosed space on top of the mill, a building in front and a building to the south. Losch plans two more phases to eventually have 580,000 square feet of buildings.
The city owns the property but is expected to sell it to Avenue after approving plans. Mayor Hugh Hallman toured the site Thursday and praised Avenue for respecting the mill’s history in its plans.
The site has statewide significance, said state historic preservation officer James Garrison. It tells the story of early agriculture and industry in Arizona. It’s tied to one of Arizona’s most significant families, built by Charles Trumbull Hayden. His son, Carl Hayden, served in Congress for several decades and was one of the state’s most important figures.
The developer and the city have worked with the state office and seem committed to respecting the mill’s history, Garrison said.
Work at the mill?
Archaeologists want to interview former Hayden Flour Mill employees to learn more about its operation and history. They’re also interested in American Indian families who sold large quantities of grain to the business in its early days. Contact: Archaeological Consulting Services, (480) 894-5477.