King Arthur rides from Orleans
Originally published in the Cape Cod Chronicle, September 28, 2018
Last week I was on vacation, spending a couple days enjoying mountains instead of sea. Of course my voyages took me the headquarters store of King Arthur Flour, a mecca for bakers. I walked around enjoying the smell of fresh bread and the dream that if I buy the right type of flour, tools, and other ingredient, I can bake as well as any Parisian master. But I was suddenly greeted by an image and caption and quickly left the hopeless dream of star baker and returned to my reality of director of the Orleans Historical Society. The plaque beneath the photo of a turn of the last century businessman said:
Mark Taylor 1850-1924 Born and raised on Cape Cod, he came to the city of Boston and joined the company in 1874 as a bookkeeper. He became a partner in 1885.
This rang a bell- I remembered from one of Bonnie Snow’s walking tours something about King Arthur Flour and Orleans. So when I returned to town I looked into our archives for more details.
Mark Crosby Taylor was born in Orleans, MA in 1850 at the house that is now known as the Barley Neck Inn. His father Joseph Doane Taylor was a ship’s captain. His mother Mary was the daughter of another sea captain, Elisha Cole. Joseph was born in Orleans, attended Orleans Academy and then Phillips Andover Academy. He started working on fishing boats during the summer when he was 13, and at 17, joined the merchant marine and began a 20 year career sailing ships around the world. Some sources credit him with owning great clipper ships, including the record breaking Red Jacket, but research makes us think that is a mix-up of names. He retired in 1866 and started work on his home, adding rooms and giving the building’s façade its distinctive Second Empire look. A biographical sketch in 1884 credits him with an interest in navigation but not local politics.
Mark went to Boston at 20 to seek his fortune. He started off as a bookkeeper at a wholesale clothing company and after some company changes ended up working for a flour company in 1874. Henry Woods founded the company in 1790, importing milled flour from England. The company grew, began milling its own flour stateside. This was the perfect company for Mark to join as he had grown up across the road from Isaac Snow’s old East Mill, located where Nauset Marine East is now. The mill is at Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich.
Mark worked his way up in the company, eventually becoming a partner in 1885 when the firm was renamed the Sands, Taylor & Wood Company.
In 1896, the partners began selling the flour with the name King Arthur Flour which was described as “milled from a unique blend of 100 percent hard wheat with no additives needed to enhance its baking qualities or appearance.” There was also Queen Guinevere Cake Flour, Merlin Magic Doughnut Mix, Round Table Pastry Flour, and three bread flours - Sir Lancelot, Squire, and Excalibur. All inspired by a visit to see King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table at the theater by partner George Wood. Flour branding became particularly important during this period because a new milling technique had been invented in Hungary which resulted in increased mill capacity but also wild fluctuations in the quality of flour being produced. The imagery of King Arthur was one consumers could remember and trust When the company converted to an employee-owned business in 1996, it changed its name to match its most popular product, King Arthur Flour.
Taylor continued with the company, then still based in Boston, until his death in 1924. His obituary in the company newsletter remembered his “ever constant kindliness honor, and sense of justice.” He is buried in Orleans Cemetery with his parents, siblings, and wife Thankful (a good Orleans name!).
So perhaps this will inspired you to spend a fall afternoon baking and remembering one of the many industrious Orleans citizens. Maybe future Historical Society programming will feature baking! Stay tuned