Visiting the Historic Thorp Mill and Museum

Driving along Interstate-90 through Central Washington yields a myriad of picturesque views. From the barns with unique quilted emblems, to the groves of trees and even the random farm stands, there are many small-town attractions scattered along the road, patiently waiting for visitors to stop by. 

If you have ever visited Thorp, you would know that this town has more attractions than the large Thorp Fruit and Antique Mall that typically entices visitors right off the highway.

Thorp Mill building

Hidden about a mile into the town is the Historic Thorp Mill and Museum, where visitors come from all across the world to learn about the town’s history. According to Kendal Ridgeway, board member of the Thorp Mill Town Historic Preservation Society, “Visitors of the Thorp Mill are predominantly local and regional residents, but the museum also attracts visitors from out of state and occasionally, even out of [the] country.”

“The proximity to the Thorp fruit stand and Interstate-90 [brings] in many visitors looking to rest and relax on their way to other destinations,” Ridgeway added. “The new 360-degree virtual tour of the Thorp Mill on our website has drawn viewers from around the world.”

Thorp Mill wheels

The History

What makes the Thorp Mill special compared to other historical sites in the area? The role that it played in the history of Kittitas County. “Construction of the Thorp Mill began in 1883,” explained Ridgeway. “The mill ran continuously from 1883 through the end of World War II and officially closed in 1946, although it was used one more time in the 1950s.”

Because of its production capabilities, the mill was not solely used to benefit local residents. Ridgeway said, “The Thorp Mill contributed to much more than just the regional economy. Due to its close proximity to the Northern Pacific rail line, grains processed into flour at the Thorp Mill entered into the global market and were exported worldwide from the ports in the Puget Sound.”

Thorp Mill machinery

The main products of the mill included flour and feed for livestock, and when visiting the mill you have the opportunity to learn how these products are processed along with local history, through individual tours. Without giving too much away about the experience, there is a lot of information available about the former residents of Thorp and how they interacted with the booming nature of the mill’s production.

Thorp Mill bridge and creek
Thorp Mill machinery
Thorp Mill and sign

What to Expect

Typically, the Thorp Mill is only open until the end of September but, “Tours are also available by appointment during our off season and can be scheduled by inquiring at [email protected],” said Ridgeway. 

During the tours you will be invited in to learn all about the mill from one of the guides, many of whom study at Central Washington University (CWU) located in Ellensburg. “The Thorp Mill board creates opportunities for internships, research projects and class activities [with] CWU students and faculty,” added Lisa Ely, secretary of the Thorp Mill Town Historic Preservation Society. 

“CWU funds a graduate student assistantship to facilitate grant writing, historical research and outreach to the general public as well as, K-12 and CWU students at the historic mill site,” she said.

Thorp Mill stove

Aside from the engaging tours, what typically draws people to visit the Thorp Mill is the opportunity to learn more about the history of the local economy and to see some of the original machinery. “The main exhibit of the Mill is the milling machinery itself, which takes up the entirety of the building excluding the exhibit space in the former storage annex,” said Ridgeway. 

“The Mill exhibit space houses a variety of machines and artifacts from the early industrial period in the west, including farm equipment, artifacts from the ice house and local sawmill, and early blacksmithing equipment.”

Thorp Mill path

After taking a tour inside and visiting with the guides, there is also a 10-part walking series around the mill where visitors can read more about the site while also taking in the views. This is a great way to enjoy time outdoors while also learning about a unique part of Kittitas County history. 

There are many locations in the area filled with rich history and pride; if you are interested in learning more about the rise of the economy in Kittitas County and meeting some of the Thorp Mill aficionados along the way, then this is your next roadside destination. 

Thorp Mill exterior
Thorp Mill sign
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Madeline Wilson

Madeline Wilson is a native Californian who relocated to Central Washington three years ago to attend CWU. She enjoys spending her weekends (and any piece of free time) away from the hustle of school by regularly visiting new parts of Washington state with her friends. Trying as many hole-in-the-wall coffee shops as possible — even without a liking for coffee — is always on her checklist. If all goes according to plan, she will graduate within the next year and continue her passion for writing about the wonderful people and places across Washington.

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