Peter Heitman was born in Bielefeld, Westphalia, Germany in 1852, the fourth of what would soon become seven children. As a young man, he learned the miller’s trade.
In 1868, Peter’s sister, Wilhelmina (Minnie) Heitman, emigrated to Carson Valley with fiance H.H. Springmeyer and three friends. Peter followed about 1872, and brother Louis arrived a bit later, in 1876.
Here in Nevada, Peter worked hard and saved his money, toiling as a farm hand for the Springmeyers and other ranchers. Eventually he was able to acquire three ranches of his own, including one at the south end of the Valley known as the Indian Ranch. In January, 1884, he married Louisa Sarman, who had arrived in 1880. They would go on to have six (some sources say seven) children together.
Valley ranchers began discussing the need for a local flour mill as early as 1891, to save the cost of shipping their wheat to California for milling and return freight for the finished flour.
In 1895, Peter hired his brother, Henry Heitman, to construct a flour mill on Peter’s ranch at the south end of Carson Valley, beside Indian Creek. Determined to make it a family business, he also sent his wife’s brother, Fritz Sarman, to Minnesota to learn the miller’s trade. And by that July, the mill was in operation.
The milling equipment alone cost $15,000 (later sources put the total at $20,000). And according to the local paper, one-half the machinery – some 30,000 pounds of it — was delivered at Carson City by the V&T, then shipped on wagons to the mill in Carson Valley. When finished, the new mill was a 30-by-40-foot edifice that stood 40 feet high, featuring three stories and an attic, and (at least according to an early newspaper story) covered in iron siding stamped to look like brick (later incarnations of the mill clearly were brick, so this description is surprising).
The new mill began its operations on July 1, 1895, with Fritz Sarman at the helm. The local paper enthused that August that the mill was “simply perfect in every particular.” Included was a 33-hp water-driven turbine for power, and a telephone line was soon strung to the new mill as well. The newly-finished mill could produce 40 barrels of flour per day.
In December, 1898, the local newspaper happily reported that the flour mill was operataing “at full blast.” Thanks to the increased demand for flour occasioned by the mill, over 1,000 tons of “good milling wheat” had been raised by local farmers that season, nearly twice the usual crop.
Expensive new roller equipment was added in the spring of 1899. Purchased from Nordyke and Marmon in Indianapolis, this included improved bolting machinery known as swing shifters, with a “double roller mill, one differential reel, one bran duster, and a wheat heater and steamer,” elevating the mill to the “finest flour mill in the state.” At $2,000, this represented an impressive additional outlay just three years after the original equipment had been purchased.
The new machinery now permitted the mill to turn out two grades of flour, and a story in The Silver State in March, 1899 boasted that their “first quality will compare with any flour made in the world.”
The Heitman/Sarman flour mill marketed its flour under the Lady’s Best and Snowball brands, and its product was shipped as far as Bodie, using twelve-horse teams. For local consumption the flour was packed into cloth sacks. Thrifty housewives in Carson Valley reused the fabric, and Valley natives long recalled their childhood bloomers and petticoats featuring the flour company’s stamp.
The flour mill wasn’t Peter Heitman’s only local business enterprise during this period; in addition to his own ranch operations, he also served as a founding trustee of the Carson Valley Creamery at its launch in 1891.
In 1906, mill manager Fritz Sarman purchased the flour business from his brother-in-law. Fritz had married Marie Seamon in 1903. But his tenure as the mill’s owner was not destined to last long. The mill was sold in 1912 to J.N. Anderson of Oakland, who dismantled and moved the business, building, and equipment to Gardnerville.
For a time Anderson continued milling operation at his new Gardnerville location, and his flour was considered exceptional; in 1915, Ladies’ Best flour won a gold medal at the San Francisco Exposition. But Anderson was unable to make a financial success of the venture, and the First World War also intervened. A bank soon acquired the property. It would change hands several more times in the succeeding years.
Former miller Fritz Sarman and his wife moved to Dayton, then to Reno, and in 1927 bought a ranch in Coleville. Fritz would live there until his death in 1954. His widow, Marie Sarman, moved to Gardnerville to live with their daughter, Frieda Pitts, before finally passing away in 1976 at the age of 92.
As for the old mill building, it was purchased in 1937 by William Graunke. Graunke was no stranger to the milling business; like Heitman, he’d learned the miller’s trade as a young man in Germany. He also had more than a passing familiarity with this particular mill; in 1908 he’d been employed by Sarman at the mill’s original location, and worked at the mill for seven years before going into business for himself.
Although Graunke discontinued flour milling, he stored grain for local farmers and milled it into feed. He also acted as a broker, selling hay and seed. About 1950, Graunke enlarged his establishment by purchasing the former V&T Depot building and moving the old depot beside the mill for use as a warehouse.
Jac Shaw bought the mill in 1953 and ran it for the next nine years. In addition to custom milling, he sold a “complete line of feeds, fertilizers and ranch supplies.” This marked a full-circle for ownership of the old Heitman mill, in a way; Shaw’s wife, Zelda, was the former Zelda Heitman (a grand-niece of Peter).
But all good things must come to an end. A “victim of non-use and increasing taxes,” the old brick mill building was purchased by Pete Staricha in 1970, and torn down late that fall for salvage. Its walls were said to be four bricks thick, and an estimated 120,000 sturdy bricks were recycled into local patios and fireplaces. The old V&T Depot building, too, was demolished about 1966 for salvage.
Peter Heitman passed away in January, 1936, and his wife Louisa followed him in death just over a year later, in May, 1937. They are buried at Garden Cemetery. But their stories — and their descendants — live on in Carson Valley.
Grateful thanks to Linda Reid for her help with this story.