Demolition began last week on the Albany Roller Mills, a landmark since the late 1800s in the growing central Minnesota town located halfway between St. Cloud and Sauk Centre.
Scott “Suds” Salzmann, 57, of nearby Avon, started working at the mill loading and delivering feed 38 years ago during a break he had taken from college to earn money. Salzmann dated the owner’s daughter, married her, and 30 years ago bought the mill from her father.
Salzmann never did get back to college, and his marriage ended in a friendly divorce. But the mill, built to crush or grind grains, had sustained Salzmann until he ran into some pending changes in federal regulations that would have required him to spend tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade equipment and make repairs to the mill’s expansive roof.
As a result, he reluctantly decided to sell the half-acre property so that it could be redeveloped instead.
“The farming economy right now is not very good,” Salzmann said. “We ran, from people milking 10 cows to the biggest herd we had was 235. That’s mostly small farmers compared to today’s standards — 235 cows is nothing now.”
Salzmann sold his inventory to Holdingford Mill, a dozen miles to the north, and the last bag of grain left Albany Roller Mills on Aug. 31. Since then, Salzmann has been cleaning out the buildings and biding his time until he can find another job.
The mills had just one other full-time worker, though it did offer seasonal part-time work to students. Salzmann said he will miss them and his customers.
“A lot of people said they were sad to see it go and they’re going to miss doing business with us,” Salzmann said.
Peter Schaps, who survived a boat fire on his way through Minnesota, ultimately arrived in Albany in 1865. Schaps started a mill five years later with William Schatz, according to an official history of the Albany Rolling Mills provided by the city.
Schatz left the partnership after a decade, and Schaps eventually merged the operation with another, more modern mill that started in 1888.
The mills changed hands and upgraded several times through the years, producing wheat flour under the names Albany’s Cream of the Wheat, Minneapolis’ Lincoln Flour, Pride of Albany, Albany Best and Swanty White Flour, as well as other grain flours, meals and feeds.
The mills even sold coal and timber for a time.
Joe Peternell, president of 8th Street Rentals, said he bought the mills speculating that the land would make a good platform for retail offices. He hasn’t filed any development plans with the city of Albany, however.
“He never reveals anything,” Salzmann said.
Peternell said he’s not certain about the redevelopment outcome, but he noted that 9,500 cars each day pass through the nearest intersection and he’s betting something will work out.
“As far as right now, we’re just cleaning the property up and looking at different uses,” he said.
Demolition began Tuesday on the Roller Mills office and a small storage building. Peternell expects to take down the largest structure when the weather warms up this spring. He estimated the total cost of the demolition at $50,000.
Peternell said he’s reclaiming some materials for future construction projects. Most of the antique milling equipment, last used in 1972, was taken out in 2001.
“It’s in the old Mill [City] Museum in Minneapolis,” Peternell said.
Both Salzmann and Peternell declined to reveal the property’s sale price.
Peternell said he decided to buy it with the hope of capitalizing on Albany’s business success.
“We’re one of the fastest-growing towns in Stearns County,” Peternell said.
Albany’s population has grown from 1,576 in 1990 to an estimated 2,695 in 2017. The city grew 42.6 percent from 2000 to 2010 alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Albany is managed very well,” Peternell said, boasting about the city. “There’s a lot of industry in Albany, and we just had a big referendum that passed in the school district. We’ve got one of the best schools around.”
“There’s no shortage of jobs,” he said. “What we’re short on is people.”