Hidden in the Turkey River valley, the Motor Mill Historic Site is a peaceful natural area that features a six-story limestone flouring mill and four related stone buildings dating from the late 1860’s.
Primitive camping is available for a nominal fee.
The dream began in 1867, when John Thompson, James Crosby, and Jon Dickinson formed a company to found a mill, town and other business ventures at Motor. Thompson & Co. spent $50,000 on the mill and another $40,000 on equipment and other structures. Stone was quarried close by, with some being lowered down the bluff in cable cars running on wooden rails. Skilled stonemasons were hired to build the 90 foot tall mill, which has a foundation five feet thick.
Completed in 1869, the mill ground barley, oats and rye for livestock feed. Corn was ground into cornmeal. Wheat and buckwheat was ground into flour. To ship flour and corn meal, barrels were made in the cooperage. A livery stable, 10-room house and an icehouse were also built. In 1875, the town was platted; already the site boasted a few houses, a school, general store, sawmill and tavern. After less than 20 years of operation, the mill closed due to crop losses, competition, flood damage and failure to obtain railroad access.
By the turn of the century, most of the milling equipment was sold or discarded and some of the mill’s timber framing was salvaged for the construction of other buildings. The main Motor buildings were used as part of a working farm from 1903 to 1983. The mill was used to store hay, grain and stable horses. The livery stable became a dairy barn and the roof was raised for more hay storage. Generations of families called the large stone house home.
Just a two-hour canoe trip from Elkader to Motor, the site has long been a popular fishing spot and canoeing access. In 1983, the Clayton County Conservation Board purchased Motor Mill with help from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Currently, the 155-acre park has hiking trails on both the north and south side of the river and a primitive campground along with a canoe landing on the north side.
Motor Mill never recouped its founders’ investment, but remains a striking monument to 19th century engineering skill, craftsmanship and vision.
Free tours are available Noon-5, May-September or
group tours by appointment.
A Dream Reborn
The Motor Mill Foundation was formed in 2004 to assist the Clayton County Conservation Board in developing long-range goals and management of the site. A diverse group of volunteers work “To protect and preserve the architectural integrity, history, natural beauty and serenity of the Motor Mill site and to develop appropriate uses and interpretation as a regional treasure for future generations.” For more information on how you can get involved call 563-245-1516.
We now have two ways to visit the mill! Take C1X (Grape Road) east from Hwy 13 at Elkader; follow Grape Road four miles, then turn south on Galaxy Road and go another three miles to Motor. Or take X3C, Grandview Road, east from Hwy. 13 (south of Elkader) about 3.5 miles; turn left on Hazel Road and immediately take a hard left on to Galaxy Road about 1.5 miles to Motor Mill.
Visit us on the web: www.motormill.org or find us on Facebook!