Thomas Mills - A Family Tradition Since 1836
Located along the south fork of Bens Creek (now called the “Benscreek”) in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, John Thomas’s Mill was recorded as a “Grist Mill” on the property of John Thomas in 1836. History leads us to believe that the mill was actually built a few years before 1836 by someone named “J. Rock,” who started its construction and left the mill unfinished. Thomas Family legend indicates that John Thomas bought the mill from J. Rock and Mr. Rock then worked for John. The name of the village is now Thomas Mills — Coincidence?
John Thomas died in 1876 and his youngest son Moses Thomas operated the mill until his death in 1907. In 1895 the mill burned to the ground. It was a windy night and it is believed that ashes raked out of the newly-installed steam boiler blew around and ignited the blaze. The next morning, Moses, his son Levi (who was by then running the mill), and Levi’s five sons gathered around the breakfast table and decided to rebuild.
Under Levi’s direction the mill that stands today was constructed and was back in operation by 1897. New features included a water-powered turbine wholly enclosed inside the building. The turbine was a more efficient replacement for the original overshot waterwheel – although not nearly so picturesque! Levi also installed a new steam boiler-powered lumber planing mill and a shingle making machine. Levi received contracts from coal companies in nearby Jerome and Boswell to finish lumber and make shingles for the scores of “Company Houses” built in those two towns between 1900-1920.
Levi died in 1914 and his son Emaniah operated the mill through the First World War, The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, World War II, and during the post-war era until his death in 1957. Emaniah pioneered the making of rice flour during World War I, and for many years supplied flour and corn meal to Penn Traffic, the company store for Bethlehem Steel Company in nearby Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In the early 1950’s the water-powered turbine was removed, and flour-making ceased at Thomas Mills. Large Midwestern flour mills dominated the market, forcing small mills to turn to solely making animal feeds.
In 1957, Emaniah’s son Merle took over and led the company through its change from small farm and poultry feed production, to full scale dairy feed-making as the dominant products manufactured. Local dairymen during this time were forced to change from shipping milk in cans to buying bulk tanks, and Merle sold many of the tanks and associated installations to local dairymen.
Merle’s son Dan came into the business in 1979 after earning a degree in Animal Nutrition from Penn State University. Together, Merle and Dan grew in the dairy feed business, but also anticipated future changes in the feed business by building a new retail store in 1985, adding a branch store north of Johnstown in 1987, and building a retail Coal Yard in 1988. Since then, the business has seen an unprecedented change from the primary manufacture of animal feeds to the many different departments and specialties in operation today.
In 2001, Dan and his wife Faith purchased the Windber Agway, and moved forward with plans to expand the retail Lawn & Garden business. The new relationship with AGWAY/Southern States allowed us the purchasing power of their tremendous resources. Through these resources, Thomas Mills & Windber Agway has been able to expand the proprietary Diamond “T” Turf Business, Commercial Turf product line, Wild Bird Seed, and Ice Melter Distribution.
Dan and Faith’s son, Jason, entered the business in 2005, bringing his training in Turfgrass Science from Penn State University. In 2007, their daughter Lisa joined the business and brought with her a degree in Business Management from Saint Francis University.
Throughout Seven Generations and over 175 years, our continued commitment to customer service and providing quality products is a tribute to our proud heritage. A Family Tradition Since 1836 – We invite you to experience old-fashioned service with today’s best products at Thomas Mills & Windber Agway!