The Mill End Store has built its business on a commitment to its customers and its community. The company has accomplished what few others have, which is to remain relevant for almost a century by continually evolving and transforming itself to meet the needs of its customers.
1848: As far back as we can determine, the land originally occupied by the Mill End Store was an apple and cherry orchard at S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard and Tacoma Street. The fruit orchard was planted by Henderson Luelling and his son, Alfred. The Luelling family arrived in February of 1848 in open wagons carrying some 700 grafted fruit trees, berries, and shrubs. They were among the original founders of the Milwaukie Township.
1860: Ewing Young, a friend of Dr. John McLoughlin, brought the first sheep to Oregon from California. Later, the Conestoga wagon trains arrived from the east and midwest along the Oregon Trail with other Oregon settlers, some of whom also brought sheep into the Willamette Valley. As early as the 1860’s woolen mills began to appear. Often, they were originally established in California and then moved to Oregon. The good quality of the water and the similarities of climate to the English textile areas saw small mills open in Eugene, Salem, Oregon City, and Portland. 1880: The Southern Pacific main line came up the valley bringing with it a second wave of textile mills. In 1902, a man named Willis bought the Luelling property and established the Willis Mohair Mill. At that time, it was the only one of its kind west of the Atlantic Seaboard. It suffered difficulties, however, and by 1917 could no longer function profitably.
1881: Roy T. Bishop was born in Crawfordsville, Oregon in 1881. Mr. Bishop’s family heritage was deeply rooted in the textile industry. His father was Charles P. Bishop, founder of Pendleton Woolen Mills. C.P. Bishop was originally a retailer in Crawfordsville, McMinnville, and Salem. There, he married Fannie Kay and joined in partnership with his father-in-law, Thomas Kay, in forming the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill Company. C.P. Bishop personally operated Bishop’s, a fine men’s clothing store in Salem, for many years.
1905: C.P. and Fannie Bishop, together with their sons, Clarence, Roy, and Chauncey, purchased Pendleton Woolen Mills. Together they directed the mill to specialize in blankets using the Pendleton Native American designs as the motifs.
1917: Roy T. Bishop was approached by the Chamber of Commerce to convert the Willis Mohair Mill. The war was on and uniforms were needed for soldiers. The property was purchased with the assistance of several prominent Portland business leaders. Mr. Bishop took out the mohair machinery and built new reinforced concrete structures to connect the good brick building of the early mill. He then installed worsted wool machinery. Thus began Oregon Worsted Company, which used the fine long-staple wool that the valley sheep produced. The mill manufactured worsted wool yarns and fabrics. This was a bold venture at the time when most of the big mills were on the East Coast.
Following the shortages of the First World War, demand for worsted wool yarns and fabrics was strong and Oregon Worsted Company, the only worsted wool mill west of the Mississippi River, soon established itself as a viable manufacturer. The mill had 300 employees and ran three shifts.
Pictured below are sales staff and the factory superintendent.
1930s – 1940s: The company had a mill with a spinning department and an office in Long Island, New York to compete with the factories in the East. Many of Carl Jantzen’s early knitted bathing suits were made with our worsted yarn.
During World War II, Oregon Worsted Company supplied the United States Armed Forces with worsted wool blankets. At one point in its history, the company was the largest manufacturer of necktie lining in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Portland.
1950: After WWII, the popularity of wool decreased as polyester became more favorable for its affordability and ease of care. Oregon Worsted Company began to outsource the various steps of its yarn production to cut down on costs. As more space became available in the building, they put more product in the store that the customers would ask for. They always had a small store up in one of the balconies for the employees and their friends. The store would sell the products of the mill. As the company was losing money on the manufacturing end, the store was thriving. The focus shifted to providing customer requests of fabric and notions in the store.
1960s-1970s: Roy T. Bishop set up another mill the Virgin Islands hoping to save on duties. The mill blended yarn from St. Croix, England, and South America to be sent to the states for dyeing. However, because the island did not have fresh water everything was done from a cistern or a well. The water was so brackish that when sent back to the U.S. the yarn would not take the dye evenly. The mill was closed and Mr. Bishop returned to the states.
Meanwhile, Oregon Worsted Company’s mill was facing a complete retooling to compete with the synthetics being imported from other countries, so the decision was made to put the store downstairs into a part of the unused mill area. The mill continued to dwindle in size and output, and eventually shut down in 1976. However, the retail store continued to flourish. A key figure in transitioning the mill into a fabric retail outlet was a woman named Evelyn Bocci.
Evelyn Bocci began working at Oregon Worsted Company in 1934, at the age of 16, finishing yarn by operating the balling machine and attaching labels. However, after 3 months of work, her supervisor discovered she had lied about her age (the minimum age requirement was 18). Reluctantly, she was asked to leave, but was promised a job when she was old enough. Two years later, she returned, and never left again. Her career at Oregon Worsted Company and Mill End Store spanned over 6 decades. She worked very closely with the Bishops, and trained Roy’s daughters, including Nancy Bishop.
1981: When Roy T. Bishop passed, his granddaughter, Nancy Bishop-Dietrich, became the president of Mill End Store.
1989: Mill End Store opens a second location, 30,000 square feet, in Beaverton, Oregon.
1992: A lengthy construction project, right in front of the store, by the Oregon Department of Transportation forced the Mill End Store to relocate. When planning the new location, Nancy Bishop-Dietrich with her husband, Howard Dietrich, made environmental concerns a priority.
The new 70,000 square foot building was designed with several features to decrease its ecological impact. To cut down on electricity consumption, state-of-the-art lighting was installed. Working in conjunction with 3 different types of skylights, the largest being 24-by-180 feet, and computerized light detecting sensors, they were able to reduce their power consumption by 66%. One of the skylights magnifies the sunlight, another insulates and diffuses light, while the third uses mirrors to reflect the suns rays into the building. The computerized sensors automatically adjust artificial lights when needed, maintaining a constant light level.
Another environmental concern was the rain water that would be running off a 70,000 square foot roof and also the parking lot. Two detention ponds were built for a natural “bio-filtration” system to handle this run-off. Instead of oil and phosphate residue running into the nearby streams, the water run off is filtered naturally.
Today: Nancy Bishop-Dietrich remains as the cornerstone of The Mill End Store. As the buyer for all of the fabrics for both the Milwaukie and Beaverton store locations, she travels all over the U.S. to provide industry specific fabric to the retail market. Old fashioned sewing expertise, attractively priced, limited supply designer runs, and an expansive selection continues to set Mill End Store apart from the competition.