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Our Good Neighbor the Motor Mill by Joleen Jansen (Originally Written for The Tapestry Magazine)

Imotor mill from the southn our fourteen years of marriage we have lived in the towns of Dubuque, Decorah, Tipton, Volga and now just outside of Elkader.  We relocated each time as a result of a promotion or transfer my husband; Jim had received as a result of his work with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

We carefully, contemplated each move and each time the move, on paper seemed logical if not exciting. However, with each move, my heart was heavy as I could not imagine leaving another place that had become like home.

When we married, in 1992, we lived and worked in our hometown area of Dubuque. While we were happy living there, we dreamed of raising a family in the smaller town of Decorah. So, when the phone rang with news of Jim receiving his first permanent, full-time job with the IDNR, stationed at the Decorah fish hatchery, we, for the most part, were thrilled.

Sure, I wanted to be adventurous, and quit my job and move to a town, maybe a quarter of the size of Dubuque. Sure I wanted to move our newborn baby, Jessica, who had experienced complications at birth away from her doctors; sure I wanted to move away from my mom and dad, Jim’s mom and dad, most of our brothers and sisters, their families and everyone else we knew well, for what would probably be forever. Yeah right!  But it was Decorah so Decorah here we come.

Two years later, just as our Decorah careers were established, our country home was remodeled, our garden created, our friendships bonded and our next baby, Jake, was born, the promotion phone rang again and we were yanked, (this probably would not be the word Jim would use to describe the departure) away from our beloved jewel of a town, Decorah. 

We were sent to rebuild our lives in the east central, Iowa, town of Tipton. Quite frankly, Tipton, would never have made my list of top 100 towns to live in. Nevertheless, in the five years we lived in rural Tipton, I grew to love the town square oriented, little berg. We loved the school, the park, the pheasant hunting spots and more so our friends.  In Tipton we formed truly genuine friendships. 

So when the DNR transfer phone rang with the opportunity to return to the hills of Northeast Iowa the decision was met with quite a bit more trepidation than perhaps we would have encountered in our earlier Tipton years. 

I mean really, Jessica was in school, on her way to becoming a loyal Tipton Tiger, our newest infant, Jenna was adored my many Tiptonites, my best friends lived in this town not to mention my brother and his family lived only thirty minutes away in Davenport. 

Yet, off we went pursuing a so called dream scene back in God’s Country.  As we rambled down the road a few miles south of Elkader, in our new van, Jim insisted on driving to the dead end of Galaxy Rd. Right away I was like, ‘who would want to live on Galaxy Rd.’  When we reached the end of the dead end road across the river from where we were parked,  I saw for the first time, in all of it’s simplistic glory the Motor Mill.  “Wow, James,” I said, “that is really cool.”

Instantly, I became at peace with our decision to yet again move.  I was enveloped with the sensation of being truly home.  The bluffs that border the Mill were familiar, the Turkey River silently flowing before the magnificent structure was calming and the simple unflappable limestone creation of the weathered Motor Mill showed me; things that are built here tend to stay here.

Miraculously, weeks later we were signing paper to purchase our ground on the bluffs above the Motor Mill.  We were fortunate enough to form a lasting deal with two of the most generous, good natured people I know; long time Elkader, area residents and former Motor Mill neighbors, Carl and Donna Wessel.

In our four years with the Motor Mill existing down the hill from our home we have grown to adore our silent neighbor.  We have fished by it, waded by it, canoed by it, hiked by it thrown rocks near it, picked mushrooms and wild berries across from it, entertained guests with it, and watched flood waters threaten it. All the time acknowledging, you just can’t beat the Motor Mill for a neighbor.

Built in the mid 1800’s the former flour mill, over the century, has witnessed arguably low levels of attention. Even the glory days, just after its construction and with the town of Motor operating around it, were pretty short lived. The mill was out of operation after just 14 years of operation.

In my effort to return the favor good neighborliness and as webmaster for I write to support the restoration effort for the Motor Mill.  The old limestone flour mill has gained in popularity over the last decade, demonstrated by the formation of The Motor Mill Foundation.  The foundation has been established with preservation and restoration of the historic site at the core of its mission.  To that end, the foundation is hosting a Motor Mill Benefit, Sat. Oct 14th, 7:30 pm, at the Elkader Opera House.  Benefit attendees will enjoy the concert sounds of Big Blue Sky.  Check out for ticket and concert details.

Today, as I write from my address on Galaxy Rd. I solidly know the answer to the questioned I pondered more that four years ago; as to who would want to live on Galaxy Rd. However, for the record it seems to me naming the road Motor Mill Rd. would have been more romantic and hands down more appropriate.