Ben Hopkin’s Champion Roller Mills circa 1890. Photo courtesy of Dick Ransley
Champion Roller Mills was established in 1865 by Benjamin A. Hopkins. Mr. Hopkins was described in one source as an “eccentric character”. He painted his house at 16 Mill Street in red, white, and blue with a star trim. It sounds like he was also patriotic. In the book “Great Sodus Bay History, Reminiscences, Anecdotes and Legends (page 174)”, Walter Henry Green tells how Ben Hopkins was a former Great Lakes sea captain who was a two fisted old salt you did not want to get in a fight with.
There was a softer side of the Hopkins family however. Two of Ben’s sons, Fred and Bye carried on the business until their deaths in the 1930’s. Then Bye’s son George ran it until 1954. In his book : Old Tales I, II and III (page 13) , Ralph Toor as a young boy tells of dealing with Bye Hopkins: “As a teenager I often wished for more spending money. Then one day I drove up to the Hopkin Mill with three sacks of corn and oats to be ground and I remember Father also wanted a hundred pounds of bran. Bye Hopkins asked what I wanted, I hesitated and said, “Nothing I guess I forgot the pocketbook and I know you have gone on a strictly cash basis.” His voice boomed out, “That don’t mean you. I have known your father and mother for years. You can have anything in the place. I know you will pay for it the next time you come to town.” Apparently my parents belonged to a privileged group. Suddenly I was proud of them and I felt ten feet tall.”
A roller mill is different from a grist mill. Roller mills use cylindrical rollers to crush and grind grain to make flour whereas grist mill use two mills stone to grind the grain. Just in front of the Roller Mill was a coop that was the home of a hundred doves.
During the last 50 or 60 years of the business, it was in the red three-story building down the street, which is now used as a youth center. After the business closed as a mill, Ray Houghtaling had a second-hand furniture business there. According to old local newspaper articles, both Fred and Bye were popular citizens with a great sense of humor. Both were active members. Fred built the house at 27 Mill Street in 1890 (Sandi Hamilton’s present home). He ws one of two trustees when the village was incorporated, and later became President of the Village (the title formerly used for the mayor’s position). The Hopkin’s legacy as millers went back to Benjamin’s presumed father, Stephen Hopkins who had a mill on Salmon Creek near Christian Holler Road.