Dells Mill

About 3 mi. NNW of Augusta off WI 27, Augusta, Wisconsin

19th Century Mill closed in 1968 but undergoing restoration to operational status

Photos 

Overview Looking West

The faded red clapboards are the original mill. The structures to the right were added over the years.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning July 2018

Enlarge

Map 

Description 

Under new ownership, the mill is undergoing restoration with the intent of offering milling services to local farmers. Many are small operatives who do not produce quantities of grain sufficient for commercial mills to bother with. The milling equipment is intact, just as the way it was when the mill ceased operations in 1968. (Apparently, according to the document you can read below, some small milling jobs were still being done as late as 1974.)

The dam was restored in 2018. The water wheel is for decoration only, the mill is, and always has been, driven by a turbine. The wheel was added for the benefit of photographers and artists who think mills should be driven by a water wheel.

The following documents were part of the application to the National Park Service in 1974 for inclusion of the mill on the NRHP.

"The Dells Mill is a clapboarded frame building, seventy-five feet high, with five floors. The central, original portion is built of hand-hewn maple timbers bound by pegs, except for one or two long, square beams joined end to end by a firm tongue in groove arrangement. The broadaxe work is of excellent quality, with the result that beams and boards are remarkably smooth and axe marks few and not very noticeable. The earliest part of the building was erected in the middle 1860's and the mill in operation by 1867. A two story wing was added to the north side in 1904, and in 1940 two separate one story lean-to additions were built onto the south side, one to serve as an office and the other to house the power unit. The parts of the building standing over water are now supported by reinforced cement columns. There is a simple porch roof extending all the way across the front (east) side of the building.

"The mill first served as a grist mill and later became more diversified. About the time of World War I, one of the industry-revolutionizing flour rolling mills of the type John Stevens of Neenah, Wisconsin, had invented in the late 1870 f s and patented in 1880 was installed. Stevens had sold his patent early and the Stevens-type roller mill in the Dells mill was made by the Anglo-American Milling Company under the name of "Midget" Mill, patented in 1915. Thus at a time when flour mills had already become fewer in Wisconsin as large scale wheat growers had long since moved westward out of Wisconsin into Minnesota and the Dakotas, the Dells Mill was able to survive and apparently continue to operate at a profit by grinding other grains as well as milling what wheat was brought there. Some of the original machinery remains, including the power turbine and the wooden cogged core wheel, which are still in use. The original turbine wheel had to be replaced in the 1920's when the vanes could no longer be controlled. It is now on display. The replacement is quite similar and about the same diameter as the original but is housed in a huge cement block under the present power shed. The mill has never been powered other than by turbine.

"The machinery is driven by 3000 feet of belting and 175 pulleys. In addition to the milling, grinding, and mixing machinery are cleaners, sorters and sifters, and conveyors which carry grain up from the ground floor and equipment which can divert the different kinds of grain into five separate bins. The mill is capable of flour milling, cereal milling, custom grinding, and feed mixing. Milling continues yet today and a few farmers still bring grain there annually to be ground, although the volume is small.

"Besides the alterations mentioned above, which were made over the years as business demanded, one purely contrived, non-functional addition was made: an overshot wheel mounted on a shaft near the real power unit, equipped with a shallow flume from the top of the dam. It was added about 1968 to create a picturesque touch for the benefit of photographers and artists and others who think mills should have water wheels. It has resulted in the mill's being much photographed and otherwise portrayed for commercial purposes.

"The landmark mill, in continuous use from 1867 to 1968, remains relatively unchanged since the installation of the roller mill and has some original machinery still in use. It was converted to a museum in 1968."

Quoted from the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form prepared by Donald N. Anderson, of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, July 2, 1974. A link to the document is listed below under "Sources."

Statement of Significance 

Written by Donald N. Anderson in 1974

STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE

There had been tremendous growth of wheat production between 1850 and 1880 in Wisconsin and by 1880 there were well over 1,000 flour and grist mills in the state. Wheat milling was Wisconsin's leading industry until the 1880's when lumber and lumber milling took the lead, but wheat milling was still an important industry at the turn of the century, although it began to decline soon after. The great concentration of flour milling for export was centered early in Milwaukee and the lower Fox River valley, but many mills were built throughout the state to serve local farm communities. One such mill was the Dells Mill on Bridge Creek near Augusta.

The Dells mill began operation in about 1867 and was still in operation a century later. In 1877 John Stevens of Neenah, Wisconsin, invented the roller type flour mill which revolutionized the industry. It not only produced a much greater percentage of white flour from a given volume of wheat but left the wheat germ intact and had various other advantages. Above all it was capable of satisfactorily milling the desirable hard winter varieties of wheat which grew better in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and other western states, than in Wisconsin. As a result, Stevens' invention was an important factor in the movement of wheat growing out of Wisconsin, though soil depletion was highly important also. It also made a relic of the buhrstone type of mill.

Apparently the Dells Mill continued to operate at a profit through diversification of its output over the years and finally installed a roller flour mill of the Stevens type about the time of World War I. As late as 1929 it was considered one of the most up-to-date cereal mills in its part of the state and was expected to mill out over two hundred thousand pounds of buckwheat flour. In addition to cereal milling, it carried on a large business of custom grinding and feed mixing.

The landmark mill still has some of the original machinery as well as that which was added from time to time to meet new demands. Its turbine has beet replaced once but it still drives the original wooden cogged core wheel which turns the main drive gear. The mill is still fully operable and has always been powered only by turbine. It is well preserved both inside and out and its machinery well maintained. Whether there is another mill equal to it in the state and still operable is not known, but the Dells Mill is an excellent example of preservation of a type of industrial plant which has become all but extinct in Wisconsin. Other grain mills which date back as far are either non-existent or have been long ago converted to other uses or other sources of power. It is now a museum, part of a bygone era.

Quoted from the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form prepared by Donald N. Anderson, of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, July 2, 1974. A link to the document is listed below under "Sources."

National Register information 

Status
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 24, 1974
Reference number
74000086
Area of significance
Industry
Level of significance
Local
Evaluation criteria
A - Event
Property type
Building
Historic function
Manufacturing facility
Current functions
Museum; Manufacturing facility
Period of significance
1850-1874
Significant year
ca. 1867
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 1
Non-contributing objects: 1

Update Log 

  • August 31, 2018: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • August 31, 2018: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated status, added description and added photos

Sources