Welcome to Motor


Motor Mill in Motion  Part 3     By: Jean Marie Hall 

This is the 3rd  and final installment of a series of reports first published in the Clayton County Register.

 For nearly 140 years, the historic Motor Mill has presided over the landscape of rural Read Township beside the Turkey River in Clayton County. The mill and the nearby remnants of the Town of Motor have been, and continue to be, a frequent stop for tourists as well as history-loving residents of the area.

In 1983, the Clayton County Conservation Board, with help from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, purchased the Motor Mill Historic Site which included 100 acres of land. The purpose was to preserve and restore the buildings and to research the history of the site. In 1992, the Conservation Board was able to purchase an additional 55 acres of land adjoining the original 40 acres on the north side of the river.

In 2001, recognizing that a plan was needed to maintain the buildings on the site, the board received a grant to write a Preservation Plan. The plan, as completed by a Decorah firm, outlined the current conditions of the site’s structures and made short-term and long-term recommendations for preservation.

The short-term advice was carried out in the first year. Windows were repaired to prevent water damage and the buildings were painted and better air ventilation was provided. Long-term recommendations brought attention to the need for the replacement of the roofs of many of the buildings. The plan suggested a time-line for the roofing jobs while keeping in mind National Register standards.

In 2002, the Conservation Board began to look to the public for help and guidance on the subject of long-range planning for the entire site. The result was the forming of a Motor Mill Advisory Committee in March, 2002. The resulting volunteer Advisory Committee began to develop a mission statement and set goals.

It was 2004 when the committee completed the Motor Mill Feasibility Study, which outlined 10 priority items for the future development and direction of the Motor Mill Site. One item included the creation of a foundation. Thus, the Advisory Committee evolved into the Motor Mill Foundation of Clayton County in September that same year. It set as its mission “To protect and preserve the architectural integrity, history, natural beauty and serenity of the Motor Mill Site and its surroundings and to develop appropriate uses and interpretation as a regional treasure for the benefit of future generations”.

In January 2006, the Conservation Board received a Technical Advisory Network (TAN) Report that advised that the mill needed immediate attention to assure its structural integrity. Along with several other suggestions, the board was advised to hire an engineer to assess the situation and to take care of the problems as soon as possible.

With those goals in mind, the Conservation Board applied for a Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) grant. The Board was awarded an amount of $38, 500 contingent on matching funds of 25% in kind and $19,000 in cash.

The Motor Mill Foundation held its first annual meeting on February 9, 2006 and received its tax exempt status in September of that year. This enabled the Foundation to write grants, hold its own accounts and offer a tax benefit to donors.

The Foundation members wasted no time in working towards their goals.

“We hosted a benefit concert on October 14, 2006 with the Big Blue Sky Band performing, says John Nikolai, “the event raised over $4,500.”

Current plans call for a reprise of the Big Blue Sky concert with a tentative date of Saturday, November 24, 2007, at the Opera House in Elkader.

At its regular meeting of October 19, 2006, the first annual election of officers was held naming John Nikolai as Chair, Jon deNeui, Vice Chair, Larry Stone, Secretary, and Chuck Morine, Treasurer. Other members of the board are directors Joleen Jansen, Les Klink, Jeanette Muller, Tom Gifford, Lee Lenth and Jim Hosch.

In addition to the REAP grant, additional grants have been received as well, according to Treasurer Chuck Morine.

“We received $3100 from the Dubuque Racing Association to be used for floor joists”, says Morine, “The Clayton County Foundation for the Future awarded us a $1000 grant for education and the Historical Resource Development Program granted us funds of $54,000 for replacing the roofs on the mill and the cooperage. This grant requires full matching funds.”

One of the major projects of the foundation is to replace the windows in both the mill and the cooperage. Estimates were sought for the cost of the project. Foundation members were discouraged at first until a local woodworker was contacted and gave an estimate of $200.00 a window, hundreds of dollars less that some of the other estimates received. With 38 windows in the mill along with those in the cooperage, that represented a substantial savings.

Les Klink, one of the descendants of the Klink family that once owned the mill and the surrounding acreage, began to contact other descendants.

“Les contacted his relatives to see if they would be interested in making donations towards the windows,” says Mary Klink, Les’ wife, “Donations were pledged from seven relatives from Iowa and Wisconsin and as far away as Virginia. He was able to raise $4100 to help pay for the windows.”

One of the most striking changes to the area since the mill was built is the encroachment of trees on hilltop savannas. A savanna is temperate grassland with scattered trees such as oaks. In the past, wildfires would keep the hills open with scattered oaks over native grasses. To recreate this landscape on the mill property, a restoration project was started along the ridge behind the mill. A donation from the Robert Grau family made it possible to remove undesirable trees and shrubs. This was accomplished through the winter of 2004-05. In the spring of 2005, crews conducted a controlled burn through the timber which has stimulated growth of native savanna grasses and slowed the advance of exotic plant species. This area is now known as the Robert Grau Memorial Savannah.

A sturdy staircase was built from the ground floor to the second floor. The floors above that level were removed when the mill was being used for a stable and grain storage.

The Motor Mill Foundation is now an active and viable entity working towards its mission and the completion of the preservation plan of 2001. Volunteerism is a vital part of the Foundation’s work. In 2006, volunteer hours were estimated at 1,024.  The mill was open for tours two weekends a month May through September, adding up to 11 weekends and 25 days. In addition, 12 special tours were given.

In 2007, several special tours were conducted, volunteers gathered to have a garlic mustard work day in June, and Turkey River clean-up day was held in August. An informational booth manned by volunteers was set up at the Clayton County Fair in August and at the Farm Antique Show on September 14, 15 and 16 at Plagman Barn between Garber and Guttenberg. A booth will also be available at Heritage Days at the Osborne Center of the Clayton County Conservation Board on October 13 and 14. In addition, Foundation volunteers constructed a float that was used in three area parades.

 “Again in 2007, the mill was open for tours two weekends a month, which will total 25 days by the end of the season,” says Tim Engelhardt, Director of the Clayton County Conservation Board, “We’ve had about 20 special tours. All of these activities are carried out by volunteers. I estimate that volunteer hours for 2007 are in excess of 2500.”

To date, figures on the number of visitors in 2007 has not been tallied but taking the tour is becoming increasingly popular with clubs and organizations. Some groups come to the mill for a tour in the morning and travel on to the nearby town of Elkader for a meal and to see other sites in the area.

“More volunteers are always welcome, especially for tour guides,” emphasizes Engelhardt, “With parades, booths, and tours, it’s hard to fill all the spots.”

To reach the area, take Iowa Highway 13 to Road C1X (Grape Road). Continue four miles until you have crossed three concrete bridges. At the top of a hill, take the first gravel road to the right (Galaxy). Following Galaxy Road for three miles will lead you the mill.

Tours at the mill are free of charge but a donations are always acceptable. The last weekend for tours will be September 29 and 30. If you haven’t been there yet, don’t miss this opportunity to see a valuable historic site and with a donation, help to preserve it. Donations can also be sent to Motor Mill Foundation, 29862 Osborne Rd., Elkader, Iowa 52043. The Foundation has a web site at where you can see a slide show of the area by board member and professional photographer Larry Stone and read other news about Motor Mill and the foundation that is dedicated to preserving it.