by ALEXANDRA RETTER
At the historic Pickwick Mill, repairs to the dam connected with the mill are in the works, and community members may support the preservation of the mill and its history by making a donation to go toward dam repairs.
When it comes to commercial flour mills west of the Mississippi, the Pickwick Mill is the first, having been built between 1856 and 1858. In the Civil War era, 100 barrels of flour were made for the Union Army each day at the mill, which operated 24 hours a day.
The mill, a building with six stories, antique and restored milling equipment and a 20-foot water wheel, is now a historic site and museum in the care of the nonprofit organization Pickwick Mill, Inc.
“It’s a window into the past … We try to show people what things used to be like,” Pickwick Mill, Inc., Vice President Tony Blumentritt said. “I think it’s important for people to know what we’ve come from. And I’m not alone. The Board of Directors [of Pickwick Mills, Inc.] feels the same way. It’s just a magnificent structure that deserves to be kept up and maintained.”
The mill lake’s dam is in need of repairs. “The water wheel machinery of the mill is functional, but the water wheel is powered by water from the lake, which is held up by the dam, so without the dam, we wouldn’t have the water to power the water wheel,” Blumentritt shared.
Repairs may include fixing a suspected leak through the dam and a concrete wall that holds a gate of the dam.
“The dam, as you can imagine, it’s got water running through it all the time, so there’s constant pressure and usage of the dam,” Blumentritt stated.
Lake LaBelle, the lake which is held up by the dam, is used for recreation such as swimming by Pickwick residents. A beach was recently made by the body of water, and a butterfly garden is also near the lake. Additionally, Pickwick Fire and Rescue may access the lake when an emergency source of water is needed, and the lake is used to help control flooding.
“The goals in this really are to keep the dam functional and safe, and to meet DNR [Minnesota Department of Natural Resources] guidelines for dam safety … the whole end goal is to keep the lake as a lake so the water wheel will run, so the lake stays in place, so the community has a lake, so Pickwick Fire and Rescue has an emergency reservoir and to keep the lake functional as a flood control structure,” Blumentritt noted. “And none of that would be possible without the mill being there. The dam was built strictly for the mill originally.”
The estimated cost of making plans for the repairs and completing the repairs is approximately $140,000 at the moment; however, the actual expense will not be known until bids from contractors are sought and returned, Blumentritt explained.
Those interested in making a donation to go toward repairs may send checks to Pickwick Mill at 39238 Mill Street, Winona, Minn., 55987. A PayPal donation option is being developed as well, and further information about that option will be available on the Pickwick Mill website at https://www.pickwickmill.org/ and the mill’s Facebook page.
The Pickwick Mill is located at 24813 County Road 7 in Winona. It is open for visitors on Tuesday through Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. from May through October. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children, and it may be paid with cash or check. If changes are made to the hours of operation amid the pandemic, they will be noted on the mill’s website and Facebook page.