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Piedmont Stories

Piedmont Stories

From left, Sam and Dick Rogers and Joe Rogers Jr. in front of Loudoun County Milling in Hamilton. The family-run business was begun by Samuel Edgar Rogers, the grandfather of Sam and Dick Rogers and great-grandfather of Joe Rogers Jr., in 1907. It still produces Washington Flour.
From left, Sam and Dick Rogers and Joe Rogers Jr. in front of Loudoun County Milling in Hamilton. The family-run business was begun by Samuel Edgar Rogers, the grandfather of Sam and Dick Rogers and great-grandfather of Joe Rogers Jr., in 1907. It still produces Washington Flour. (By Eugene Scheel)
By Eugene Scheel
Sunday, August 9, 2009

For the past century, business at Loudoun County Milling, on the outskirts of Hamilton, has been a family affair. Like many mills, it stood by a railroad, the Washington & Old Dominion. It is one of the Virginia Piedmont's few operating mills and one of the oldest. In 1907, it was bought and enlarged for Samuel Edgar Rogers, a farmer and merchant who had begun investing in mills at age 55 in 1900.

Within 13 years, Rogers and his children would own four mills, one in Washington and three in upper Loudoun County along the railroad, today the W&OD bicycle path.

To talk about Rogers's life and legacy, I recently met with two of his grandsons, Sam and Dick Rogers, and a great-grandson, Joe Rogers Jr., at Loudoun County Milling, managed by Joe Jr. since 1985. I also conversed several times with the senior grandchild of Samuel Edgar Rogers, Esther Rogers Cowart, 94, of Charlottesville. She worked at the mill for 30 years; Sam and Dick put in their time, as well.

"The whole family has always been involved," Cowart said, adding that when she was 7, in 1922, she invested $300 from saved Christmas and birthday gifts to buy shares of family-held stock in Willkins-Rogers, the corporate name for the Rogers mills, which today number four.

The Rogers family line had farmed in upper Loudoun since 1742, when Loudoun was part of Fairfax County, which had been carved from Prince William County that year. A later Rogers spread was near Bloomfield, where Samuel Edgar Rogers's father died when he was 2, in 1847. "Mother and child then became extremely close," Cowart said. His four other siblings were then younger than 9.

In September 1861, shortly after the start of the Civil War, Samuel Edgar Rogers enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 16. He fought throughout the war and was captured near Burke Station, in Fairfax, on April 10, 1865, one day after Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Rogers's horse made it home before he did. Rogers belonged to John Mosby's partisan ranger band and did not know whether it had surrendered. Nearly three months had gone by before he found out that it had disbanded April 21. Only then did he take the oath of allegiance to the United States, a prerequisite for repatriation.

Rogers then returned to Edgewood, south of Hamilton, and farmed for 19 years. In 1872, his ailing mother named him executor of the family estate, despite his having two older brothers. After his mother died in 1874, Rogers spent years managing family affairs and helping the household of a blind sister, who died in 1882. Only after family matters were set straight did Rogers test the retail waters. He opened a mercantile store, S. E. Rogers & Co., in Hamilton in the early 1880s but continued farming. He had become dissatisfied with local milling operations, and with his partner, John Chamblin, built his first mill at age 55 in Hamilton in 1900, a combination gristmill and sawmill powered by a gasoline engine. The mill, which was on the site of the present Baptist Church parking lot, burned in 1913.

Rogers soon realized that the future of Loudoun milling lay along the railroad in the rich agricultural heartland of the Loudoun Valley. At rail stops, buyers and sellers of grain and livestock usually agreed upon prices before shipping. So, in 1907, he bought and enlarged the mill at Hamilton Station, officially called Irene, the post office name. The same year, he bought mills by the railroad in Purcellville and Round Hill. He could now set prices for milling grain, mixing feed and storing the bagged produce for resale.

Each milling complex also had pens to hold livestock before it was sold or for shipping to larger Washington markets; stowage fees brought in extra income.

In 1913, in order to be close to the commodities markets in Washington -- markets that often determined the price of Piedmont grains -- he bought the water-powered Cissell Mill in Georgetown by the Potomac River, and he and partner John Wilkins formed the firm Wilkins-Rogers.

The Purcellville, Round Hill and Washington mills produced flour from wheat by the roller process, in which the grain is refined between corrugated rollers. This process produced a finer and whiter flour than the few remaining water-powered mills that ground grain between rough-hewn burrs. Shortly after Rogers's death at 76 in August 1921, Wilkins-Rogers expanded its Loudoun holdings by purchasing the Paeonian Springs mill and the Bluemont mill and grain elevator. Wilkins-Rogers now owned every mill by the railroad west of Leesburg.


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