Sometimes, an old building like the Little Crow Factory in Warsaw, Indiana, doesn’t need to be an architectural wonder to warrant saving it from the wrecking ball. Besides, it has been a part of the American breakfast table for nearly a century.
The first incarnation of what would become the Little Crow Mill building was built in 1856, two years after Warsaw incorporated. Local pioneer Col. Charles W. Chapman, who led the 74th Indiana Infantry during the Civil War and would serve in the Indiana House of Representatives and Indiana Senate, built a grain mill next to the courthouse, at the southwest corner of Main and Lake.
The growing mill changed hands a few times throughout the second half of the 19th century. Still, its function was always the same: that of a small, local grain mill for Kosciusko County farmers. It was not until 1903 when local machinery manufacturer Wilbur F. Maish purchased the mill that the now Little Crow Milling Company would diversify their mission.
Under the leadership of Maish, Little Crow began manufacturing a line of prepackaged pancake and buckwheat flours in addition to the livestock feed production that they had always made. By 1919, Little Crow was a “leading local industry” that had developed six brands of prepackaged flours and baking mixes for sale around central Indiana.
Half the building was destroyed by a grain elevator fire later that June. Maish opted not to rebuild the milling facilities of Little Crow and instead focused solely on product production, growing their business until they were ready to expand. In 1923, Maish purchased property at Detroit and Market Streets, where he built a new Little Crow factory building.
After the new plant opened in September of 1924, Little Crow Foods would spend the next 88 years, under the guidance of four generations of Maishes, producing national kitchen staples like CoCo Wheats cereal, Miracle Maize cornbread mix, and Fastshake pancake mix, and adding several additions to their production facility as they grew.
Warsaw was taken by surprise when Little Crow closed its doors in 2012, selling off its brands to a pair of out-of-town companies. Though the sudden departure of Little Crow marked the loss of a local institution, the newly empty building left an 85,000 sq. ft. opportunity on the southwest side of downtown Warsaw.
The Maish family donated their great-great grandfather’s building to the Kosciusko County Community Foundation. They agreed that any proceeds of the sale would fund charitable grants within the community. That plan came to fruition when the factory was purchased by Commonwealth Companies of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, who planned to reuse the building, converting it into affordable housing adaptively.
“Little Crow Lofts” project, which was awarded funding in IHCDA’s 2016 Rental Housing Tax Credit round, added 42 units of affordable housing as of its June 2018 ribbon cutting. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome,” said Kosciusko County Community Foundation CEO Suzie Light. “The Little Crow Loft’s project was important to us for several reasons. It accomplished our donors’ goals to place the gifted building’s proceeds into a donor-advised fund for charitable grants. It helped meet a critical housing need for our community. It prevented a former factory from becoming a vacant, deteriorating building along the main thoroughfare. And finally, it preserved and protected Little Crow and brought a new purpose to a historic structure.”