Many said it couldn’t be done! Back in 1981 there was a meeting held to form a nonprofit, tax exempt membership corporation, The Pickwick Mill, Inc. The site of a devastating flood occurred at the old mill on September 20, 1980, in this valley just off the Mississippi River in Southeast Minnesota. The mill’s six floors of thick stone walls were built on bedrock and survived with some interior damage. Could the mill, built back in 1858, be finished forever? “No,” said the people who knew and loved her. With the hard work and determination of the community and others, it is a testament to what people can accomplish with so much cooperation and giving.
In 1982, with enough of the main level restored and a few pieces of machinery, the treasured local museum was born. The historic Pickwick Mill is totally debt-free and on the National Register of Historic Places. It may be the oldest existing mill and industrial milling site in the state of Minnesota. It raises money from donations, memberships, fundraisers, memorials, and admissions to all six floors and to view machinery that has been restored.
For 35 years, the members have restored the dam, gates and pond, known as Lake La Belle. The original roof peak was rebuilt, some floors, beams and pillars replaced. The windows, stairs and the great water wheel were restored. The gears, belts and mechanical parts were meticulously remade. With great expense, but a labor of love, it is a working model of a mill today. It continues to be preserved.
The limestone was quarried from the local bluffs when the early settlers began building in 1854, and along with the mortar, has survived intact for all this time, held together by perfect chiseling and fitting. There are two iron rods through the walls of the upper floors to tie the walls together. No nails were used in its construction. The weight alone holds it in place. True craftsmen of their time built this structure.
During the mill’s early years, it could process 100 barrels of flour per day, carried down to La Moille by wagon and then loaded on steamboats headed for the Union Army during the Civil War or out east, to Europe and South America, later traveling by rail when the trains came through.
On Saturday September 9, 2017, The Pickwick Mill will hold its annual Mill Day Celebration and raffle. Tour the mill for free all day long. The pancake and sausage breakfast starts at 7 a.m. and continues though the morning. By 9 a.m. the silent auction and bake sale will be going at the lodge across from the mill. Organizers start all of the pioneer demonstrations and the La Crosse Log Rollers are on the pond at 10 a.m. Live music will be in the morning and afternoon. Take a ride on the wagon pulled by horses, always a big thrill! Get a big lunch at the lodge, ice cream and a piece of homemade pie. Volunteers will be selling raffle tickets for cash prizes all day long with a drawing at 4 p.m. (Ticket holders do not need to be present to win.) All will not want to miss the running of the mill at 10:30 a.m. and again at 1 p.m., all powered by the huge water wheel. The silent auction ends at 3 p.m. Visit 24813 Winona County Road 7 between Winona and La Crescent and support the mill! Visit pickwickmill.org or call 507-457-0499 for more information.