Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Minnesota History - The Pickwick Mill

Minnesota is chock-full of interesting historical sites. Many are run by the Minnesota Historical Society, some are run by county historical societies, and some are run by individual historical committees dedicated to the preservation, interpretation, and conservation of particular locations and stories.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited one of these latter sites, the historic Pickwick Mill, located in Southeast Minnesota.

The Pickwick Mill was completed in 1858, and is one of the oldest grist mills in Minnesota. Six stories tall, made of local stone, and fully operational, the Pickwick Mill is a gem set in the bluffs along the Mississippi.

The mill was operational until the 1960s, when it shut its doors to commercial operation. Local residents wanted to preserve the history of the first grist mill west of the Mississippi, and created a historical society to get the mill back up and running and turn it into a museum.

By McGhiever - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59036367

As you can see above, there are five stories above street level. There is also one story below street level, where the waterwheel is located. The waterwheel is an overshot model, where the water is directed over the top of the wheel as opposed to undershooting the wheel. Overshot wheels turn clockwise, while undershots turn counter-clockwise.

Flour Sacks from Minnesota Mills
 Local farmers would bring their wheat to the mill and unload it at street level into a chute along the side of the building where it would be weighed and credited to the farmer's account. The wheat then dropped to the bottom-most floor of the mill where the belt 'elevators' carried it all the way to the top floor, more than sixty feet above.
The basic plans from which the mill was built.
Gravity took care of the rest, sending the grain down, floor by floor where it is ground, sifted, and packaged.
A fine silk screen that sifted the flour after it was ground. The finer the
screen, the finer the flour. This mill had very high-quality flour that was
sifted many times before being sacked.
At the height of production, during the Civil War, the Pickwick Mill operated 24 hrs a day and produced 100 barrels of flour each of those days. A barrel of flour weighed 294 pounds! That's enough flour to make almost 300 loaves of bread.

Today you can tour the mill from May to October. It's a lovely drive to reach Pickwick, and the museum folks are knowledgeable and helpful.

I found the water-wheel particularly fascinating. It's amazing that having the sluice gate open only an inch or so provides enough power for the wheel to crank every piece of machinery in the entire mill.

You can learn more about the Pickwick Mill by visiting: http://pickwickmill.org/

About Erica: Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, www.ericavetsch.com where you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at https://www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/ where she spends way too much time!


  1. This was very interesting! I'm glad this gem was preserved for modern people to see. I'm surprised that artisan bakers don't have their flour processed here!!

  2. Another historical place that has been preserved for people to visit. I enjoy visiting historical sites, so thank you for sharing this one.

  3. Fascinating, Erica. I've never been to Minnesota, but I would love to visit there someday. The old buildings and other historic sites always interest me. Thanks.