Posts Tagged: Motor Mill

Grist for the Mill: Local History

Springwater Mill Historic Photo

Springwater Mill Historic Photo: L to R: Eugene Stortz, Billy & Rob (Horse team), Charles Stortz, Theodore Stortz, Lars Iverson

BY BENJI NICHOLS

Rich agricultural history is abundant in our region – from artifacts of Native cultures to farmsteads settled by first generation immigrants to striking gristmill buildings dotting Driftless riverbanks.

As agriculture took hold in the Midwest, settlers found crops that thrived in our area, like wheat, corn, rye, barley, oats, and more. These essential grains provided food for both settlers and livestock, but not without the necessary steps of proper harvesting and processing, including milling the grain.

The act of taking grains from their plants, then cleaning, grinding, sorting, sifting, and packaging them, has become an integrated part of our culture and of everyday foods. So much so, that we rarely think of where these grain products come from, or the great efforts it takes to produce them. But not so many years ago, many area communities had a small gristmill, and every decent river in the Driftless Region had multiple mills on it to grind the grain of local farmers. They were often family operations, like the long-gone Springwater Mill near Decorah.

In the early days, these localized mills saved farmers time and money – they didn’t have to transport their harvest, with horses and wagons – any farther than necessary. The neighborhood mill could process grains, taking a small amount of grain as payment, which might get put into barrels and shipped out, or sold in sacks to local folks, or fed to the cattle.

Very few of these mills still exist today, and only a couple of them are still intact enough to actually operate their truly antique equipment, like Schech’s Mill near Caledonia, Minnesota.

Motor Mill near Elkader, Iowa

Motor Mill near Elkader, Iowa / Photo by Benji Nichols

Some mills grew bigger, or started bigger with grand ideas of creating outposts in rural areas, like the Motor Mill, near Elkader. At one time Northeast Iowa’s Turkey River had over 10 working mills that served local farmers and residents. Many towns of size generally had at least one larger mill that could act as a hub for the area’s farmers, and often became a social hub as well, as everyone depended upon these structures for flour and grain.

While the days of water powered turbines are perhaps almost gone (or are they?!), a renaissance in small and artisan milling may very well be under way in the Driftless.

Schech’s Mill operates part time, milling small batches of grain for customers like Rock Filter Distillery in Spring Grove, and for weekend tours. Fifth generation mill owner Ed Krugmire can be found caretaking any myriad of tasks on the family mill site – from mowing and exterior work on the property, to mending old drive belts for various parts of the mill. Three underwater turbines still provide all of the grinding power at Schech’s, with almost all of the antiquated mill equipment intact and able to produce, but all also requiring very custom upkeep. The site is truly a fascinating time capsule into a rural mill, with wooden chutes and leather belts running machinery. To hear the slow rumble of the giant French millstones turn as a water turbine is engaged is nothing short of beautiful industrial ghost noises.

But perhaps the most interesting part to the local mill history and culture is that it continues to come full circle (no pun intended) today. As farmers have looked to diversify crops, and grow more specialty small grains for distilling, brewing, and baking, smaller mills have once again found their places in society.

Great River Milling near Cochrane, Wisconsin has been milling organic and specialty grains since 1975, and has become well known for their products across the region and country. Specialties include a variety of small grain flours, whole grain bread flours, and ancient grains.

Lonesome Stone Mill, in Lone Rock, Wisconsin is a uniquely modernized facility, making use of a refurbished cleaning mill and working closely with local growers to produce small batch grains and flours for the region. Owners Gilbert Williams and Gary Zimmer continue to find more demand for their specialty pancake mixes across the Midwest, as well as many other specialty grains and flours for artisan bakers and outlets. As small ag producers and consumers continue to seek more localized products, small milling operations may see a resurgence in our Midwestern landscape. These community outlets not only provide valuable food products, but a place where farmers and community members can cross paths.

What better way to learn about this craft than from history itself?

Here is a partial list of Driftless area mills that you can visit. Please note that almost all of these are located in rural areas, with limited hours and seasons for tours. Fall is a spectacular time to take in the countryside and enjoy these destinations, but please check ahead, and plan your route on paper, as several of these beautiful locations are off the beaten path.

Last remaining stone from Springwater Mill

The last remaining stone from the mill was salvaged from the defunct Springwater Mill site in 2001 and placed at the Springwater Lutheran Church on Locust Road near Decorah / Photo by Benji Nichols

Springwater Mill
Formerly located in rural Decorah 

The Springwater Mill was located just northeast of Decorah on the Canoe Creek from approximately 1851 to the late 1930s. Several families owned the mill at one time or another, including members of the Beard family, as well as both of Benji’s Great, Great, Great Grandfathers! This type of mill was often used to grind livestock feed, but could also provide a variety of ground corn and wheat products for consumption. The last remaining stone from the mill was salvaged from the defunct mill site in 2001 and placed at the Springwater Lutheran Church on Locust Road near Decorah (see photo above).

Mill stone at Motor Mill near Elkader, Iowa

Mill stone at Motor Mill near Elkader, Iowa / Photo by Benji Nichols

Motor Mill, Elkader
23002 Grain Rd, Elkader, Iowa 52043 • motormill.org

The Motor Mill is an excellent example of true craftsmanship – the dream of multiple business partners who saw not just a mill, but an entire development of a town, called Motor, near Elkader, Iowa. The town never became a reality, due to the lack of rail construction that was thwarted not once, but twice by severe floods. But the gorgeous four-story limestone mill still stands on the banks of the Turkey River. Parts of the original equipment still exist, and the Clayton County Conservation Board continues to work to restore not only the Mill, but the surrounding property as well. Several events are held each year at the Mill, and tours are offered on the weekends except during winter months.

 

Schech's Mill

Schech’s Mill / Photo by Benji Nichols

Schech’s Mill – Ed Krugmire
12559 Mill Rd, Calendonia, Minnesota
507-896-3481 or 651-245-5566 • schechsmill.com

Schech’s Mill is possibly the best ‘living’ example, and one of the only remaining water-powered mills still operating in Minnesota. Construction started on the mill in 1876, but wasn’t finished until close to 1880, after the Schech family took over the site. The “Caledonia Roller Mills,” as it was previously named, operated for many decades, and passed through multiple family hands. In 1965 the family realized it had a unique structure and began offering tours – which continue to this day. Leather belts dance through wooden elevator shafts, and almost silent water turbines turn to power the 48-inch, 1,000-pound French quartz millstones. Schech’s is truly a unique view into the past, which Ed Krugmire continues to care-take as the last of the Schech lineage. Tours are available Friday-Sunday and by appointment.

Sifting machines at Schech’s Mill

Sifting machines at Schech’s Mill / Photo by Benji Nichols

 

Pickwick Mill
24813 County Rd 7, Winona, Minnesota
507-457-0499 • www.pickwickmill.org

The Pickwick Mill, just outside of Winona, Minnesota is another incredibly picturesque building and setting. On the banks of the Big Trout Creek, this mill was complete in 1858, first as a sawmill, and then a gristmill. It was the first commercial flour mill west of the Mississippi, and supplied over 100 barrels of flour a day to the Union Army during the Civil War. The limestone and timber frame mill features a 20-foot water wheel, and restored milling equipment. Tours are available generally May through October, Tuesday through Sunday, with the annual Pickwick Mill Day, second Saturday each September (September 14, 2019).

Lidtke Mill
14969 Mill Rd, Lime Springs, Iowa
563-566-2828 or 563-566-2310

The Lidtke Mill was completed in 1857, and was used in one form or another for almost a century. Sited on the Upper Iowa River, northwest of Cresco, Iowa, near the Minnesota border, the Mill is now part of a 10-acre park complex in Lime Springs. Much of the original equipment is left just as it was when operation ceased in 1960 at the mill. An interesting feature of this mill is that the dam site was also used to create electricity in the 1920s, and the “Dynamo Room” can still be viewed. The Lidtke family home is located on the site as well and is included as part of the tour with many original furnishings. The mill is open on weekends through Labor Day 1-4 pm.

Wapsipinicon Mill Museum
110 1st St. West, Independence, Iowa
319-334-4616

In Independence, Iowa – alongside the Wapsipinicon River, sits one of the largest Gristmills left in the state of Iowa. Home to the Buchanan County Historical Society, the 1867 structure is now a milling museum with unique displays about early agriculture in the region as well as pioneer artifacts, and more. The five-story building was a project of businessman Samuel Sherwood, who also patented a design for the turbines that would power the mill. It’s open through mid-September from 12-4 pm daily (closed Mondays).


Interested in trying products from modern day small stone ground mills?

You’ll find these unique products to be a bit different (and often better!) than commodity store-bought versions. Stone milling retains much of the germ and bran from grains, giving them more nutritional value, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals. Check out these regional sources for amazing, locally grown and milled products!

Lonesome Stone Mill
304 S. Oak St, Lone Rock, Wisconsin
608-583-2100 • www.lonesomestonemilling.com

In 2009 Gilbert Williams and Gary Zimmer purchased a cleaning mill in Lone Rock, Wisconsin to help sort local cover crops. It soon became known that the Clipper 29D seed cleaner was running again, and a variety of small grains began showing up. Enter another young, local farmer – Jeremy Lynch, who shared his home-milled mix of rye and wheat pancake mix, and it didn’t take long before things really ramped up! Lonesome Stone now produces several types of grain flours on their modern Meadows Mill 30-inch stone mill, as well as their custom pancake mixes, which can be found at their storefront and across Central Wisconsin and beyond.

Great River Organic Milling
Cochrane, Wisconsin
www.greatrivermilling.com

Great River Organic Milling has been providing stone milled products since 1975, all from the “Western Coast” of Wisconsin, near Cochrane. The company offers several organic flour blends and specialty products, including a line of ancient grains, and gluten free flours. Products can be found online as well as through retailers across the Upper Midwest, including many co-ops and natural food outlets, as well as larger grocers and warehouse clubs.


Benji Nichols has been captivated by stone mills and small grains since a sidetrack to California in his early 20s. While spending a year working for Grindstone Bakery, he learned much about ancient grains, small batch milling, and baking naturally leavened breads. 20 years later, the interest is as vivid as ever as more diverse small grains become common across the Midwestern regenerative landscape. A recent book, Grain by Grain by Bob Quinn and Liz Carlisle, has fully re-sparked his interest in what the future of small grains and localized mill processing could look like.

Grain by Grain, Bob Quinn & Liz Carlisle

CHECK IT OUT:

Grain by Grain, Bob Quinn & Liz Carlisle.

A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food.
islandpress.org/books/grain-grain

Driftless Day Trips: Elkader, Iowa

Main Street Elkader 09 009

By Shannon Dallenbach Durbin • Originally published in the Spring 2013 Inspire(d)

ArtInThePark>>> Check it out! This weekend is Elkader’s Art In The Park celebration. Saturday & Sunday, August 22-23, 2015. Enjoy Art, music, kids’Tent, Food & wine,and FUN!!! It all takes place in Founders Park (right across the street from the Elkader Whitewater Park!), in downtown Elkader. <<<

It’s another beautiful day in the Driftless Region! If you’re like us, you find yourself thinking, “We should take a little road trip!” Who wants to stay inside tapping away at computers or tidying the house when there’s exploring to do? Where should you head? Well, Elkader, of course. This little town by the Turkey River is full of life. If you love shopping, eating great food, a little nature exploration, and taking in a show (live or on the big screen) you’ve come to the right place!

There are many entrances into this lovely little town of 1,300. If you are a mystery fan, you’ll even find a sign indicating your arrival to “Maitland,” the pseudonym for Elkader used by best-selling mystery crime novelist Donald Harstad. Harstad still resides in Elkader, and if you take the Bridge Street exit, you will pass the beautiful Jail House Inn – the old county sheriff office-turned bed and breakfast – where Deputy Sheriff Harstad used to work.

Keep going on Bridge Street and you will experience the magic of crossing the historic Keystone Bridge as you enter downtown. Take a peek to your right as you pass over and you will see the waters of the Turkey River rushing over the dam.

Main Street Elkader 09 010

Coffee
Start your day with a coffee at Treats just down a bit on Bridge Street. This little café has a vibrant atmosphere and friendly staff. The coffee beans are locally roasted and have fabulous flavor. They serve breakfast, plus daily lunch specials, soup, and homemade pie. My favorite combination is the cashew chicken wrap, a white chocolate mocha, and maybe a truffle…or two.

Archive2

Shopping
Let the retail therapy begin! Adjoining Treats is The Copper Frog, a fun little resale shop with lots of spunk, moved into their former digs. You’ll love their great collection of fun jewelry.

Cross the street pop into Bridge Street Boutique for the latest trends and head around the corner to Archive for Iowa wines and cool architectural finds. Next door you will find Common Clay Studio, with pottery by local artist Kate Chandler.

If you are still going strong, get into the thick of it at The Turkey River Mall. This place occupies an old hotel on the corner, and inside there are roughly 100 rooms all filled with different shops.

Across from the Theater is Willow Creek, featuring wine, garden decor, and paintings by local artist Jillian Webb Herrmann.

Sightseeing
Elkader was named after Abd elKader, an Algerian freedom fighter in 1846. In 1983, Elkader became Sister Cities with Mascara, Algeria (the birthplace of Abd elKader).  This friendship is displayed throughout the town. For instance, in the small walking park, Mascara Park, situated near the Elkader Opera House, you will find a peace pole made in 2008 by local luxury lighting company, Fire Farm. An identical peace pole resides in Mascara. And in City Hall, housed in the basement of the Opera House, you can find a display of items that Elkader and its residents have been gifted from Algerians through trips and visits from ambassadors and so forth. Find other interesting Elkader documents and artifacts displayed at the Carter House Museum, across the street from the Court House.

beer

Dining
By now your tummy surely is starting to grumble and Elkader is not short on places to dine. From burger stands to buffets, pizza joints to pubs, Elkader has over a dozen places to grab some grub. However, my favorite will always be Schera’s Restaurant.

Schera’s is an Algerian/American Restaurant that was started by a couple drawn to Elkader based on its namesake. Schera’s is a great place to try something new, but even their cheeseburgers are beyond compare. If you’re interested in quality beer, you are in luck. Schera’s takes their beer seriously. They have a rotating lineup of 18 craft beers on tap, with a specific glass to match each beer. When the weather is nice, you can enjoy your meal on the patio that overlooks the Keystone Bridge and Turkey River – make sure to try something that comes with the fabulous harissa!

And just across the river is a great place for dessert. The Burger Barn (open the first weekend in April until October) serves over 14 flavors of Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, as well as other delicious ice cream treats. You’ll love their sandwiches that come on huge slices of Texas toast and your kids will love playing on the slides while you wait.

Burger Barn

If you’re undecided on where to fill your belly, time to take out your smartphone and look up DishnTunes.com. An Elkader native created this website as a one stop shop for locating great dining venues and entertainment in the area. They even have many of the menus on their site so you can peruse them before you go. And while you’re on the site, check out what is available for evening entertainment.

Entertainment
Like many small Midwest towns, Elkader has golfing, bowling, churches, schools, and community clubs to keep the town hopping, but few can truly boast about their theaters (both live and big screen).

IMG_1661

Even if you’ve chosen a random day to make your way to Elkader, you can always cap your night off with a movie at the Elkader Cinema. A beautiful, vintage neon sign invites you into the recently renovated cinema, which boasts a single, state-of-the-art digital projection screen. The movies are current, the concessions include beer and wine, and tickets are around $5. I usually finish up the night with something sweet from Pedretti’s Bakery which opens again late at night when the baker starts the morning’s bread.

If you happened to come to town on a night when the Elkader Opera House has an event, life couldn’t get much better. The Opera House is gorgeous and the entertainment is high quality. Musical acts and comedy appear a regular basis. The Opera House Players, a volunteer theater group, puts on shows at least twice a year. This fall will feature SHREK The Musical.

MSI Awards, Freedom Bank, Ladies Day Out 029

Nature
If you still have time to explore, check out the Clayton County Tourism Office and Iowa Welcome Center at its new location by the bridge. They can hook you up with brochures on everything from Spook Cave to Motor Mill. The Motor Mill’s historic building and just-completed restoration of the nearby bridge (it washed out in the 2008 flood) is a fun outskirt destination – you might recognize the mill from the 2013 Iowa Tourism Guide. You can get there by going back up Bridge Street and heading straight out onto the windy gravel, or if it is a nice warm day you can call up Turkey River Outfitters.  They rent out canoes, kayaks, and tubes with all the necessities and even provide shuttle service. And don’t miss checking out the new Elkader White Water park (image: Travel Iowa) on the Turkey River at the south end of town. This is the real deal for active kayakers, and has been drawing great attention since its completion.

Elkader_WW_Park

If you’re just looking for a little jaunt, when you leave the Tourism Office take the River Walk for a stroll along the river. The path is paved with many resting areas for enjoying the beauty of the river. Once you reach the bottom of the path you have couple options:
1. Continue your hike onto the Pony Hollow Trail, which brings you deeper into nature on an unpaved path. Here you will find cyclists, runners, and even horseback riders enjoying the woods and limestone cliffs.
2. Explore the City Park, featuring a large playground, disc golf course, swimming pool, ball fields, horse barn, picnic shelters, George Maier Rural Heritage Museum, and a fitness trail around the perimeter of the park.

Lodging
Wow, there is way more to Elkader than you thought possible, right? Maybe you haven’t tried Fennellys’ Irish Pub yet or taken a Clip Clop Carriage Ride so you’re thinking about extending your stay. There are several places to lie your head – check out the Elkader Lodging Association’s website for all the details (website to follow), but here are a couple of tips: If you’ve got a large party, think about taking the group to the Barn of the Bluff. Their dorm-style spaces are perfect for family reunions and friend getaways.

We hope to see you in Elkader this fall!

Main Street Elkader

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Shannon Dallenbach Durbin grew up on a farm just outside the area and always admired the Elkader community. She moved to the town seven years ago with her husband, Bryce, and here they are raising their six-year-old son, Link and one-year-old, Felix. Shannon has served many roles in the community from newspaper editor to President of the Sister Cities Friendship Club. She currently is employed at the Clayton County Extension Office as the Program Coordinator.

Food:

Treats
110 W Bridge St
563-245-2242

Burger Barn
688 Sunburst Ln

Pedretti’s Bakery
101 N Main St
563- 245-1280

Fennelly’s Irish Pub
105 N 1st St
563-245-3663

Schera’s
107 S Main St
563-245-1992

Check out more options at dishntunes.com

Shops:

Copper Frog
118 West Bridge St

Archive
104 First Street NW, Elkader, IA.
563-245-3429

Bridge Street Boutique and Gift
107 W Bridge St
563-245-3939

Turkey River Mall
102 S Main St
563-245-3995

Entertainment:

Carter House Museum
101 2nd St SE  Elkader, IA 52043
563-245-3708

Elkader Cinema
108 N Main St
563-245-2666

Elkader Opera House
207 N Main St
563-245-2098

Spook Cave
13299 Spook Cave Rd, McGregor
563-873-2144

Motor Mill
Galaxy Rd

Turkey River Outfitters
456 High Street SE
563-245-3802

Clip Clop Rides

Lodging:
elkaderlodging.com
elkaderjailhouseinn.com
barnonthebluff.com

General Information:
elkader-iowa.com
claytoncountyiowa.com