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Motor Mill - History and The Great Outdoors!
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Motor Mill - History and The Great Outdoors!

Whether you're into checking out places of historical interest; enjoying spotting wildlife amid beautiful scenic countryside, camping or canoeing Motor Mill, Elkander offers all of these things and more besides.

History of the Mill

Motor Mill was the concept of entrepreneur John Thompson and attorney James Crosby. It was multi-talented Crosby who surveyed for the mill building itself as well as the dam, bridge, town site, mill race and railway. In addition, he founded a school and carried out engineering work on the mill.

According to Crosby's journal, construction began in earnest in April 1868. Limestone for the mill was quarried from the bluff situated to the north of the site and was conveyed to the building site by a specially designed cable car pulley mechanism. The men responsible for crafting the stone were German stonemasons drawn from nearby communities. Such was the scale of the project that four lead masons were needed, each taking charge of the construction of one wall of the mill each. Each applied his own style which is reflected in the way the stone has been cut on each side of the building. Architectural style was not in mind when the mill was built but rather efficient functionality and dedicated use for production although some attempt was made to pretty the building up with carvings and decorative paintwork.

The completed structure stands 90 feet tall with foundation walls five feet thick and is certainly imposing as it rises from the waters of the Turkey River. The engineers also built a dam to serve the mill. The 200 foot long structure generated 250 horsepower when running at full tilt and at its peak the mill could process 1500 bushels of wheat every week.

Motor Mill became operation in the autumn of 1869 but seemed dogged by problems despite produced excellent flour. Local wheat crops were devastated by pests and raw materials were therefore in high demand. Then, due to high water levels it was impossible to complete the narrow-gauge railway which would have made transportation easier. One shareholder sold his interest in the mill and things went from bad to worse. In 1883 a flood destroyed the dam and Motor Mill finally closed after just 14 years in operation. Despite never realising its founders' dreams or investments, the mill remains an impressive monument to their vision and to the skill of the 19th century engineers who built it.

The site of 155 acres is today managed by its owners, the Clayton County Conservation Board whose responsibility it is to maintain the structures on site as well as look after the surrounding prairie and savanna land which is popular with hikers.

Camping, geocaching and canooing

The spectacular countryside surrounding the enigmatic mill now offers eight campsites which are available on a first come, first served basis and for a nominal fee. There is a popular canoe ramp near the campsite.

The Turkey River provides a truly fantastic canoeing experience with great fishing and wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities along the way. The Motor Mill is a two and a half hour float from Elkander and Garber is a further five hours away.

If geo-caching is your thing, you'll find a cache at Motor Mill which contains a sign-in book and some simple toys together with the locations GPS co-ordinates which are also posted on the Geo-cache website.

Motor Mill offers a varied programme of annual events and also holds tours. You can obtain full details of what's available from or call Clayton County Conservation Board on 563-245-1516. For a water trail map, check out where you can download a copy.

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