By Jay Syrmopoulos —
The historic attraction known as Pickwick Mill was built from 1856 to 1858 by Thomas Grant and Wilson Davis, who settled near the mill site in 1854. It is one of the oldest existing waterpower gristmills found in southeastern Minnesota. The property’s nomination form in the National Register of Historic Places says it was built in 1854 as a combined gristmill and lumber mill, then converted to flour production in 1856. Pickwick Mill is known as one of the largest mills in Minnesota and was one of the first community businesses in the state. Currently, the mill is administered by Pickwick Mill Inc., a nonprofit organization. Incredibly, it has been stated that the mill may be the only membership-owned historic site in the United States.
Located in Pickwick, Minnesota, the mill was initially constructed as a sawmill, and later became the first waterpower gristmill on the banks of the Big Trout Creek. The mill was the first commercial flour mill active west of the Mississippi River. The 60 foot by 45 foot mill, measuring six stories in height, was constructed of locally quarried limestone and built as a merchant or commercial mill, producing flour for both local and distant markets. Local farmers often transported the flour by wagon to LaMoille, downstream along Trout Creek to the Mississippi River. There it was shipped by boat and later by rail to eastern cities, South America, Europe and other ports of call.
During the Civil War, the mill ran 24 hours a day and produced upward of 100 barrels daily for the Union Army. After the war ended, the mill became the primary hub for flour-milling for most of southern Minnesota, as well as portions of Wisconsin and Iowa.
The mill’s interior framework, cut and sawn locally, is notched and fitted together, held by only a few wooden pegs fit so closely together that nails were not used in the construction of the building aside from the floor. In 1907, the six-story building was extensively damaged when a tornado tore the roof and top storage room off the historic mill. The building has since been restored to a gable roof that harkens back to the original design. The last few decades of the 19th century saw a revolution in the flour industry with a “new process” or roller mill process permitted for the production of finer, whiter flour at a faster pace, resulting in greater overall production. Thus, another unique feature of the mill is that it has equipment/machinery that traverses both the old stone-ground production method and also the roller mill method.
In celebration of the historic Pickwick Mill and museum, Mill Day festivities are held on the second Saturday of September.
The day of events begins with a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. and free tours of the mill. Numerous activities begin between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., including a silent auction, horse-drawn wagon rides, blacksmithing, weaving and spinning, a bake sale, pottery making, rope making and more. In addition, a band will be playing old-time music for your auditory pleasure during this time. The Mill will be in full operation at approximately 11:30 a.m. and again at 1:30 p.m., with the 4 foot by 20 foot water wheel powering all the machinery. The festivities also include cash lottery tickets with a drawing to pick the winner at 4 p.m.
Pickwick Mill is located at 24813 County Rd. 7 in Winona, Minnesota. Stop by on Sept. 9 to join in the celebration of Mill Day! For more information, visit www.pickwickmill.org.