Star of the West Milling Co.:
Star of the West Milling Company Building, corner of Hubinger and Tuscola Street. Circa 1915.
Star of the West transport vessel.
The original fifteen settlers of Frankenmuth welcomed the arrival of an additional one hundred colonists to Frankenmuth in 1846. At that time they did not realize that two of them, brothers in their early twenties, would change Frankenmuth's physical and business life for many decades.
The two brothers were Johann Mathias [1820-1903] and Johann Georg [1823-1909] Hubinger. They would begin family enterprises that would overshadow all other business activities in the small village during the 1800's.
They came from a family in Germany that had been in the milling business for two hundred years. They stayed in that business even in Frankenmuth. In 1847-48 they constructed a wooden dam for $1,000, which still survives (though covered with concrete) and erected a flour mill for $3,000. A waterwheel powered the flour mill. Shortly after it was completed, a sawmill costing $1,500 was built just upstream on the bend of the Cass River. Nothing remains of these mills today.
Hubinger’s mills were very influential in the then budding colony. Originally the town seemed to develop where St. Lorenz Church located. All of the colonists and a couple businesses were started in that vicinity in the first years. With Hubingers moving to the river, one mile from the church, it caused a commercial shift in Frankenmuth business developments.
The mills also helped insure Frankenmuth's future existence after the original purpose of an Indian missionary colony ended by 1851. The mills provided ready lumber for new houses, which rapidly replaced log structures. The flour mill made a market for the areas -agriculture products.
The 1913 History of Frankenmuth stated: " The sawmill worked rather slow from the start; the men would put a log on the automatic feed carrier and set it agoing and go fishing for a while and when the slab was cut through, they would change the log and go fishing again.''
Even if the saw worked slowly, the Hubingers worked quickly starting other businesses in town. In 1851 Johann M. sold his share of the mills by the dam to his brother. He then started in 1851 a general store on the southeast corner of Main and Tuscola Streets. This store has a long and interesting story. Johann M. turned the store over to his son Gottfried (1861-1937). He handled groceries, clothes, shoes, pipes, tiles, yard goods and was an agent for windmills, books, furnaces, sewing machines and washing machines. Gottfried's daughter then took over the business in the early 1900's. Her name was Hedwig Hubinger (1887-1971) and was affectionately known as "Aunt Hattie". Hattie's nephew, Wallace Bronner, bought the building after her death for his business. In 1976 the property was sold to the Star of the West. This completed a circle since 1851 where all the owners could trace their beginning to the original Hubinger family.
In 1870 Johann M. Hubinger began the Star of the West Roller Mills where the present boat launch area is now on East Tuscola. The mill was operated by steam power and was in a frame building.
The name of the company, "Star of the West " was taken from a side-wheel merchant steamer of that name. It was normally used on a New York to New Orleans run, but it was secretly chartered for $1,250 a day to carry soldiers and supplies to Fort Sumter in January of 1861. On January 9th, the ship approached Charleston harbor and Fort Sumpter when South Carolina gunners and Confederate forces fired on it. The ship was hit and fearing sinking, it turned around and headed for open seas. The northern forces on Fort Sumter did not return the hostile fire until April 12, 1861. The reason for Hubinger naming his mill Star of the West is not really known. Patriotism is the most logical explanation.
In 1876 Johann's son Lorenz [ 1850-1924] took over the mill business from his father. In 1880 he converted the mill to the "new process". By 1886 it was rebuilt into a roller mill. Six years later more improvements were made.
While the "upper Hubingers" were developing the Tuscola Street area, the "lower Hubingers'' worked by the river and bridge. Johann Georg's children likewise worked in the business. The sawmill was locally important, but compared to the Saginaw River system of log companies, it did not rate high. No records of the company appear to exist today. Regardless of this, the Hubinger brothers and their many children developed a commercial ‘dynasty’ that continued throughout the 1800's. The family owned a substantial part of Main Street property between Tuscola and the Cass River through at least the 1870's. Tax rolls and personal property valuation show that the Hubinger family was one of the most influential, owning property and financial investments.
Their mills served the needs of builders and farmers alike. Some family members served as the community's bankers since an official bank did not begin until 1910. The Hubingers also served their community in various government offices.
In 1903 a group of farmers formed a partnership and bought Star of the West from Lorenz Hubinger. Lorenz then went to work at the Frankenmuth Cheese Factory as a salesman. Lorenz's only surviving son was not interested in the milling business so Lorenz decided to sell. Within a few years the new owners realized that the original plant needed extensive renovations. So they decided to build a new plant, which was opened in 1911 at the comer of Hubinger and Tuscola Streets. This plant remains in operation today.
The partnership remained until July 1929 when it became a corporation and the name was changed to Star of the West Milling Company. When the corporation took over, minutes of company meetings were then recorded in English rather than German.
Star of the West has always had the benefit of experienced and long-time employees. First was Johann M. Hubinger, then his son Lorenz. Jacob Rummel remained with the company for sixty years after starting there when he was sixteen. Rummel was second miller in 1895 and later became manager. His son, Otto Rummel, became manager in 1947 but died unexpectedly in 1950 after 25 years of service. For a short time Albert List was manager and in 1953 he was succeeded by, Richard Krafft, Jr, a young bookkeeper hired in 1947 straight out of high school. Dick ran the company for the next 50 years retiring to the position of Charirman of the Board in 1997. Filling Dick's position as President, was another "bookkeeper", Art Loeffler. Art had joined the company as its first controller in 1979 after two years auditing the company for a local C.P.A. firm. Art retired in March of 2018 and is currently Chairman of the Board. Filling his position as President & CEO of the company is Jim Howe. Jim began at Star of the West in 1981 as an intern from Michigan State and was hired full time to formally expand the Plant Food division in Richville. In 1997 he moved into the role of Vice President of the Elevator Division and after Arts retirement became the 5th President and CEO of the company.
Star of the West Milling Company has continued to grow over the years. It has expanded from one mill to five flour mills today, in four different states, and nine country elevators handling corn and soybeans, processing edible beans and providing local farmers with their crop inputs. The daily flour milling capacity now stands at 33,400 cwts, making Star of the West the 11th largest miller in the United States.
It is with the drive and determination of companies like Star of the West, and families like the Hubingers, that Frankenmuth has become the community that it is today. It could be said that in communities with a strong ethnic background, the emphasis on family flows into all the aspects of their lives. The history of Star of the West Milling Company further illustrates the quality and character of the people who have lived in and helped to make Frankenmuth grow.
August 1910 Decision to Build a New Mill in Frankenmuth