The World's Largest Sorghum Mill
In exchange for Fort Smith purchasing $35,000 in company bonds at 7 percent interest, the Best-Clymer sorghum company agreed to build a $75,000 plant in south Fort Smith near just north of where the Wal-Mart Supercenter at Zero and S. 24th streets are today. The date was Nov. 5,1913.
The Mazzard Land Company agreed to take the entire bond issue if it sold enough house lots later.
Mr. R. Best agreed to buy some of the lots himself, speculating they would be a good investment.
The lot sale in mid-January went well and by the fall of 1914, the sorghum plant was built.
In late January, 30 farmers from the vicinity of Paris, Charleston, Branch, Lavaca and other points on the Arkansas Central line attended a meeting at First National Bank. The meeting was part of an effort to recruit farmers to sorghum cultivation for the new mill. M.B. Parkinson, superintendent of the prospective plant, was there to answer questions as well. Farm demonstration agents were trained at the University of Arkansas to the particulars of sorghum cultivation so as to educate farmers further.
On Feb. 15, 1914, a carload of sorghum seed arrived, enough to plant 3,000 to 4,000 acres.
The Kellerman Construction Co. built Best-Clymer's St. Louis plant and they were the general contractor for the one in South Fort Smith. Construction began in May 1914.
When finished in the fall, it ended up costing $115,000 to build and housed more than 40 railroad car loads of eqiuipment. At the time, it was believed to be largest sorghum mill in the world. The Times Record said:
The power plant consists of the battery of six boilers..., a big Corliss engine of 400 horsepower, vacuum pumps to numerous to mention, a small turbine engine operating an attached dynamo by means of which the plant can be electrically lighted. One of the big features of the plant is a six ton traveling crane that was used in the installation of the machinery and which will be necessary in the annual overhauling the plant must receive.
Operations at the plant finally began at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 16, 1914. Five hunderd tons of cane were already on hand. It shut for the season one month later. Syrup was shipped to St. Louis for finishing and packaging. The plant continued in operation for many years to come.
Sources: Fort Smith Times Record, Nov. 5, 1913, p. 1; Jan. 30, 1914, p. 1; Feb. 16, 1914, p. 8; May 1, 1914, p. 5; Sept. 27, 1914, p. 7; Oct. 16, 1914, p. 1; Nov. 15, 1914, p. 3.