Hop Brook History

Northborough 1830 (used with permission from Northborough Historical Society)

Hop Brook boasts one of the few continuously-occupied mills in the state still in commercial use. The mill, currently "Armeno Coffee Roasters" at 75 Otis Street, is shown on an 1830 map of Northborough as "Dr. Ball's Mill" just below the pond at the junction of Bummett Brook and Hop Brook.

Dr. Stephen Ball built the mill on Hop Brook some time in the early 1800's. Dr. Ball, a member of the Ball family for whom Ball Hill is named, had an interesting assortment of businesses in town. He was a physician for 54 years and had the first apothecary in Northborough where many young apothecary apprentices learned the business. He also had a shoe business, a millinery business, and extensive farming interests.

Although the exact construction date of the mill is unknown, a man born in 1813 remembered watching the mill being built when he was a young boy. It was originally a combination saw mill and grist mill. The millpond, on the opposite side of Otis Street, may have been named after a Mr. Smith, who owned and operated the mill sometime between 1861 and 1900.

For most of the 20th century the mill was owned and operated by the Kalenian family. Oscar Kalenian started a bulgur business in Worcester in 1892 in the same building as the Shredded Wheat company. At the time, the two companies shared carloads of wheat. A few years later the Shredded Wheat Co. moved to Niagara Falls, N. Y. and in 1908 the Armeno Cereal Company moved to the mill situated "amid the beautiful tree-covered hills of Northborough, Mass., and beside a narrow road that winds into a picturesque valley."

Oscar Kalenian died shortly after the move and his younger brother, Armen, took over the business. The mill burned around 1910 and was rebuilt by Mr. Kalenian and a local man (who worked for trolley fare and food) for $2,000. Armen Kalenian was president of the Armeno Cereal Company from 1915 until his death in 1972.

Wheat to produce the bulgur was brought in from the station on Otis Street by the train load and emptied into a storage bin under the retail shop. The bin was large enough to hold a railroad car of wheat - about 4,000 bushels - once the local children had compacted the wheat and pushed it to the back of the bin by tromping on it. The wheat was cleaned, washed, and then stream-cooked in a rotary cooker, nearly three stories high. The process was so noisy that it was enclosed in walls filled with sand and 6" thick doors. After it was cooked, the wheat was dried, de-branned, and ground into four different granulations. Early on the process entailed intensive manual labor and many family members and neighbors worked at the mill. Armen's grandson, Paul, says, "The thirteen steps to finished product meant that hand labor would hand carry the partially made product upstairs thirtenn times per pound of bulgur sold."

After Armen's son Aram, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduate, became Vice President and Engineer in the 1930's, he automated the mill making it possible to run the process with fewer people and developed a machine to de-bran the cooked bulgur.

During the Korean War, the mill produced wheat products used by the Van Brode Mills in Clinton to make K-Rations. In 1962 they supplied the cracked wheat that Van Brode Mills used to make survival biscuits for bomb shelters.

After Armen Kalenian's death, his grandson Paul took over the mill. He removed the machinery no longer being used, put a new steel roof on the building and put in new windows, replacing the door where the wheat was unloaded. Over the next 20 years, he operated several businesses from the mill, including a lumber and rough furniture business, and a large commercial boiler and wood furnace manufacturing business, which operated as The G&S Mill, Inc., in honor of the original grist and saw mill. He and his wife lived in the mill from 1972 to 1976 as well as operatingtheir businesses from that location.

In 1994 Paul Kalenian started Armeno Coffee Roasters, Inc. They import coffee from about 25 countries around the world and roast and package it for wholesale and retail sales. Paul Kalenian sold the business to two of his employees, Chuck Coffman and John Parks. They are continuing the gourmet coffee roasting business and have added a wine room and holiday gift basket production to the business.

Parts of the bulgar making process can still be seen along side the modern coffee roasting and grinding equipment. The wooden chutes that delivered the coarse, medium, and fine grinds of wheat for bulgur, tabouli, and couscous are near the coffee roasters. In the lower level of the mill there are still elevator belts with the small buckets that carried the wheat upstairs to the boiler as well as one of the original stone grinding wheels used to hull wheat. The area where the wheat roaster once was is now the cigar shop. The small shop at the front of the building which originally sold Armenian food, remains a retail shop now selling Armeno coffee along with tea, chocolates, jams and other treats.

Baker, C.E. 1945. "Bulgur, Wheat Cereal Staple from the Near and Middle East Now is Made in Massachusetts." American Miller and Processor, September 1945. pp. 42 - 45.

Balfour, B. 1962. "Northboro Firm May Get "Survival Biscuits" Contract." The Evening Gazette. Worcester. Monday, March 5, 1962.

Northborough History by Rev. Josiah Coleman Kent, 1921

Interviews with Paul Kalenian, Chuck Coffman, John Parks, and Ms. Margaret Kalenian