The Colorful Dells Mill
The Dells Mill and Museum near Augusta Wisconsin
Augusta Wisconsin Dells Mill Historic Article 3
Tourist can expect an interesting visit to the Dells Mill and Museum in Augusta Wisconsin. The mill was built in 1864 and is on the American History Registry of Historic Places
From a magazine article by R.K. Martinson
The colorful Dells Mill, painted red, has now been in Clark family ownership through four generations. Gus Clark and his mother, Mrs. Bessie Clark, restored it 11 years ago and they now operate it as a museum. They still put it to its original use sometimes to grind whole wheat flour which they sell to tourists. In springtime they clean seed oats for local farmers.
They take pride in the fact that the mill has been entered in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the mill, the property once housed a small community with a school, boarding house and stables, although those structures are gone now.
”Years ago,” Gus told me, “the mill was a center of activity. Farmers came to have their grain ground. Travelers paused for food and lodging and immigrants stopped by to get information.”
For the farmer and his family the mill was more than a place of business. It also supplied a pleasant diversion from backbreaking labor. A trip to the mill was usually an all-day affair starting at dawn and ending well after dark. Some farmers from outlying communities stayed overnight at the boarding house. A journey to the mill was also a recreational occasion. Often farmers fished in the mill pond and enjoyed a picnic lunch beside it. ”
In 1880 there were more than a thousand mills in Wisconsin,” Gus said. ”By 1900, due to the large wheat production in the state, milling had become Wisconsin’s second largest industry.” But those big wheat harvests depleted the soil and crops began to decline. It wasn’t long until many of the flour mills had been abandoned or were converted to grinding feed. The Dells Milling Company is one of the few of those old mills still standing.
Although there is a large water wheel at the side, the mill has long been powered by a turbine wheel. A larger one was installed in 1955. The main drive gear, equipped with wooden teeth, has lasted through more than a century of use. The teeth, made of hard maple, last from 8 to 10 years under normal usage. Over 3,000 feet of belting and 175 pulleys operate the milling apparatus. The mill also has a flour roller mill – a device which revolutionized the flour industry back in 1877.
Gus Clark has a keen interest in American history as well as in the history of his mill. All this is evident as he conducts his tours and demonstrates for visitors how the machinery works.
Tourists can expect to find him wearing a Civil War Union Army uniform. He has even trimmed his dark beard in the style of that period. Some years ago he was featured on the front pages of Midwestern newspapers when he saddled up his horse, Clementine, and rode all the way from Augusta to Galena, Ill., to take part in a celebration honoring the memory of General Ulysses S. Grant.
Teachers like to bring school children to the mills for tours, especially in springtime. Gus gladly entertains them with such songs as ”Jimmy Crack Corn” and ”Listen to the Mocking Bird,” accompanying himself on his ” git-fiddle,” a home-made instrument which seems to be a cross between a mandolin and a guitar. He introduces the youngsters to Clementine and highlights his routine by demonstrating his marksmanship with a large, muzzle-loading rifle. Naturally, the kids enjoy every minute of their visit to the Dells Mill museum.
As a sideline, Gus operates, a gun shop on the mill property and his mother runs e’ antique shop there. Antiques aren’t confined to the shop, however. A number of antiques are exhibited inside the mill museum where guests can also see tools which were used in milling, farming and lumbering. Mrs. Clark points ~ collection of old-time barbed wire and says that 300 types were manufactured between 1865 and 1890.
Another section of the museum displays a prairie schooner, buggies, cutters and sleighs. Visitors pause to study a collection of pictures of the mill itself. The Dells Mill has been feature on TV commercials and is a favorite subject for calendar photographs.
Magazine and date of publication is unknown