Dakota Datebook

Flour Mill Fire

Thursday, February 14, 2013


A terrible fire destroyed the Krem Roller Mill on this date in 1906. Although little remains of the town today, Krem was once the “largest and most progressive” town in Mercer County. Much of the town’s commercial success, however, was the result of its large flour mill. Losing the mill was the beginning of the end for the North Dakotan prairie town.

In the 1880s, immigrants flooded into Mercer County, eager to take advantage of the Homestead Act; three out of every four were of German heritage, coming from the areas of southern Russia. The majority of these Germans from Russia took up farming, but found it difficult to transport farm products to the Missouri River for sale and transport. They also found it difficult to file papers and conduct business in Stanton, the county seat, which was located on the far eastern edge of the county. Some county residents were forced to travel as long as two or three days to reach the far-flung county seat.

In order to alleviate the burden, many settlers proposed the creation of a central market and seat of government. In 1888, Carl Semmler established a new townsite near his farm north of Hazen. Centrally-located, Semmler named the town Krem after the Crimean homeland of many of the area’s settlers. Semmler was able to lure investors to build a large flour mill on the site, enabling local farmers to bring their wheat directly to the mill. Mill owners also hoped that the future rail-line from Mandan to Killdeer would run through Krem, giving their newly-ground flour a way to reach larger markets.

The large four-story roller mill could grind fifty bushels a day, powered by steam produced from local lignite coal. With its 24-hour schedule, however, the mill frequently ran out of fuel and was forced to use straw instead, although straw created sparks. In February of 1906, straw sparks led to a fire that quickly burned the mill to the ground. Although quickly rebuilt, the cost created a strain on the mill’s owners. When the railroad decided to lay its line through Hazen rather than Krem seven years later, most of the town’s businesses and residents relocated. By 1940, the town of Krem was one more prairie ghost town.


Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job



Richter, Otto. “Krem: The City on a Hill.” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains 39, no.

2: 1972, 19-25, 38. (Accessed via: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/history_culture/history/krem.







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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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