A bag of New Rinkel brand pastry flour sits on the counter of the Greenfield Mills store.
A bag of New Rinkel brand pastry flour sits on the counter of the Greenfield Mills store.
GREENFIELD MILLS — David Rinkel isn’t exactly sure just what his next move is.

Rinkel, the owner of Greenfield Mills, a LaGrange County water-powered mill that has been part of the local landscape for nearly 170 years, said this week that he is shutting down the LaGrange County institution and putting it up for sale.

Greenfield Mills, which has been producing New Rinkel brand flours and pancake mixes for generations, has been operated by the Rinkel family for over a century. Rinkel, 58, admits that shutting down his family’s business was not an easy decision to reach.

“What are you going to do? It’s been in my family for 109 years, how do you shut down something like this?” he said, gesturing to the mill behind him.

The mill was built in the northeast corner of LaGrange County not long after the first settlers started to arrive. It used the Fawn River to power the mill, and later to spin two water-driven turbines that generated enough electricity to run the mill, with enough surplus to create the state’s smallest power utility.

Rinkel made the announcement about shutting down the mill on its Facebook page. He wrote, “It is with deep emotion and sadness that I write to inform you that Greenfield Mills will be closing, and is for sale. We have tried our hardest over the past 9 years to keep the Mill and legacy that it has going, but with the economy we just can’t make ends meet.”

Rinkel, like his brothers and sister, grew up working in the mill with his mother and father. He left Greenfield Mills after high school to learn mechanics and spent more than 20 years away from home, working at various car dealerships in the area.

He and his family — his wife and two adult children — decided to return to Greenfield Mills nine years ago to take over the struggling mill from his mother. Several of the county’s larger bakeries have closed in the last two decades, forcing operations such as Greenfield Mills to look elsewhere for business.

“This place was already upside down when I took it over,” Rinkel said. “We did everything we could think of to try and save it. I am the fourth generation of my family to operate the mill. I wanted to pass that on to the fifth and sixth generations.”

The mill’s Facebook post went on to say, “The last 9 years that my immediate family has operated the mill have been the best in my life. The mill has taught us many things, and we have developed many friends through it. We truly appreciate each of our loyal customers and the support that you have given us over the years. We do hope that one day the mill will open back up so that others can learn the great amount of history that it has to offer.”

Rinkel said mill’s store will remain open to sell products remaining in stock.

The mill sits on 1-1/2 acres in the northeast corner Lagrange County. In addition to the mill, Rinkel operates a small, two-turbine power utility produces electricity for 15 homes, one barn and two Rinkel mills. Excess electricity is sold to NIPSCO.

Much of the equipment in the mills is as old as the 167-year-old building and is described by Rinkel as “functioning artifacts that make Greenfield Mills a living history.” The building is constructed of white oak timber beams, cut in 1846, measuring as much as 50 feet long and 10 inches square.

Rinkel said the competitive nature of the mill business has made it almost impossible for smaller operations such as Greenfield Mills to stay in business.

“When the bank account is empty, what are you going to do?” he asked.

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