The machinery long ago ground to a stop, but the Bon-Ton Flour Mill still stands as a reminder of Bozeman's past.

A giant painting of an old Bon-Ton flour sack on the four-story building's eastern face, and the grain silos at the edge of the property are the only indicators of the mill's original use.

These days, the old mill at the corner of North Wallace Avenue and East Peach Street houses a sound studio, an architect, a dog groomer and other offices.

In its lifetime, the Bon-Ton building has gone from flour mill to feed mill, from a vacant, nearly forgotten building to one with a waiting list for tenants.

"People thought we were crazy for buying it," says Jeff Hritsco, whose family bought the Bon-Ton a few years ago.

Some people suggested the Hritscos invest elsewhere in Bozeman, but the family valued the uniqueness of the northeast neighborhood and wanted to be a part of it, Hritsco said.

And coincidentally, his parents, George and Estelle Hritsco of Bozeman, have a Bon-Ton connection - they met while working for the Bon-Ton bakery in Missoula.

Depsite naysayers, the building has no shortage of tenants. And the Hritscos are happy to have preserved a piece of history.

"I love the building, " Hritsco says. "We're proud to own it."

A varied past

Eugene Graf Sr., a baker from Germany, built the Bon-Ton mill in 1930 to supply his bakery at the corner of Main Street and Willson Avenue. That corner still bears a sign for the bakery.

"My guess is it was a larger employer, with the mill and the bakery," says local historian Derek Strahn.

The family-owned mill and bakery employed as many as 20 people during the 1930s, which was a lot of employees at that time, says Graf's granddaughter, Yvonne Jarrett, of Bozeman.

The mill opened in 1932. The Bon-Ton produced several types of flour such as white, wheat and graham. The mill was known for producing unbleached flour with a high protein content.

The grain was moved from one floor to the next as it was ground, sifted and cleaned to create the finished flour.

The machinery came from an unsuccessful mill in Miles City and the grain bins came from a Manhattan malting company, Strahn says.

Sold under the name Bontana, Bon-Ton flour over the years was used by Graf Sr.'s bakeries in Bozeman, Missoula and Billings and for some other commercial products.

Generations of change

Graf's son, Eugene Jr. , bought the mill from his dad in the late 1940s, but eventually closed it and added a feed mill to the southwest end of the building, Jarrett (his daughter) says.

Jarrett, 59, doesn't remember precisely why her father opted to run a feed mill rather than continue with flour production, but she suspects he didn't want to compete with the large national flour and bread companies that were becoming more common during that era.

The feed mill operated from 1966 to 1980, Strahn says. It burned down in the early 1980s.

The flour mill, meanwhile, became a home to vagrants, pigeons and the occasional group of high school partiers.

The Graf family sold the property to Don and Susan Turner in the mid-1980s.

Letting go of the building wasn't a hard decision, Jarrett says. She and her brother, Eugene III of Bozeman, didn't want to operate a mill.

"I'm not the sort of person who mourns over that kind of thing," she says.

The Turners renovated the flour mill building and Don Turner operated his business, which sold an acrylic building product called Dryvit, out of the mill.

A Bozeman staple

Other than the silos and the flour sack painting, the old Bon-Ton's exterior and interior don't give many clues to its varied past.

Flour dust still clings to bottom of the elevator space and the attic holds some of the old milling equipment.

But the grain elevator was removed after the mill ceased operation, but the elevator shaft has since been incorporated into the office spaces. People might not realize it ever was a grain elevator if they didn't know the building's history, Hritsco said.

And the grain silos north of the flour mill are no longer part of the mill property, Hritsco said. A construction company uses them for storage.

Now the building houses several businesses, and plenty more have contacted the Hritsco family about renting there. Jeff Hritsco says the building and its location have generated enough interest to produce a waiting list for occupants.

The Bon-Ton has become a landmark.

Curiously, however, neither historical archives nor oral histories mention the derivation of the name Bon-Ton.

"Bon" is the Latin root for words meaning "good." Jarrett suspects that meaning is why her grandfather chose "Bon-Ton." Or perhaps it was something he picked up while in Europe, she says.

She may not have been interested in running a feed or flour mill, but she says she still enjoys seeing the flour sack decal when she drives by the old mill.

"It's fun to go by and see that the Turners repainted the sign," she says.

And in the interest of preserving the Bon-Ton presence in Bozeman, Hritsco says the flour sack is there to stay.