HISTORIC CLAYTON COUNTY
HONORS MOTOR MILL AND CHIMNEY SWIFT TOWER
Motor Mill and the Althea Sherman Chimney Swift Tower - two prominent Clayton County historic sites – will host joint open houses on June 6. Programs at each site – Motor Mill is on Galaxy Road southeast of Elkader and the Swift Tower is at the National Cemetery north of Garnavillo – will showcase recent restoration work and explain the historical significance of the structures. At Motor, Rosie “Grandma Rosie” Nelson also will do grain grinding and bread making demonstrations.
The Motor Mill event is from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., with a picnic meal served from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Visitors are then invited to travel to National for the Sherman Swift Tower ribbon cutting and program at 2 p.m.
Motor Mill was built along the Turkey River in 1869. The 90-foot limestone mill was the centerpiece of the town of Motor, but the community withered within a few decades, after insects destroyed the wheat crop and flood washed out the mill dam and proposed railroad. The Clayton County Conservation Board acquired the site from the Klink family in 1983 and 1992.
Along with the mill, four other buildings survived from the town’s heyday 140 years ago. The inn housed farmers waiting for their grain to be ground. It later was used as a farmhouse. Mill customers kept their horses in the stable, which was converted to a dairy barn. The original icehouse and cooperage (barrel-making shop) also have survived in relatively good condition.
The Motor Mill Foundation has begun restoring the buildings. Volunteers have replaced floor joists, flooring and some windows in the mill. The roofs on the mill and the inn will be replaced this year. The foundation is holding fund drives to pay for the roof and chimney work, as well as for new windows for the cooperage.
Althea Sherman built her original chimney swift tower in 1915. The tower, which was 28 feet tall and 9 feet square, included a center wooden chimney for the birds to nest. Windows and peepholes into the chimney and a wooden staircase around it allowed Althea and her guests to observe the birds.
An accomplished amateur ornithologist, Sherman studied chimney swifts and other birds for more than 20 years. She also was an accomplished painter, and wrote a number of articles about her bird observations. She died in 1943.
A group of Clayton County residents in 2006 formed the Friends of the Sherman Swift Tower to preserve Sherman’s legacy. After failing in their attempts to bring back the original tower, which now is owned by the Johnson County Songbird Project, the group decided to build a replica. The new tower was erected late last year in the National Cemetery, a short distance from Althea Sherman’s home site.
The tower will be open for guided tours on Saturday – but once chimney swifts begin to nest there, the building will be closed to avoid disturbing the birds.