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Effort underway to restore Preston's historic elevator

Sun, Sep 10th, 2000
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Town hall meeting planned for September 19By John TorgrimsonMonday, September 11, 2000

The Minnesota Historical Society refers to it as the Milwaukee Elevator Company Grain Elevator. And according to the Society, the elevator located at the Preston Trail Head, with its Supersweet sign and galvanized siding, is eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Former Preston Mayor Richard Nelson is one person who would like to see the elevator restored and maintained as a historical link to the city's past - when Preston was a grain shipping center for area farmers. Father Francis Galles and Sheila Craig agree with Nelson. The three are some of the people behind a community movement to generate support for preserving the elevator and creating an interpretive center.
"The elevator documents a past way of life," Galles said. "When the movement of agriculture produce was vital to the economic well being of the area."

Back at the turn of the century, the people of Preston worked hard to bring the railroad to the city. Bypassed initially by the railroads, the city commissioned a narrow gauge line to be built to Reno, near Brownsville, in 1879. And later, in 1903, a standard gauge rail spur line was created linking Preston to the Southern Minnesota railway at Isinours. In both instances, the citizens of Preston had to raise bonds to help finance the building of the railroads.

The railroad was an essential link to the markets in the East, and the town benefitted from the commercial advantages the railway provided.

Around 1890, the Milwaukee Elevator was built for the purpose of holding grain for shipment. The Milwaukee Elevator was built in the elevator style known as "country elevator", whose function was to receive grain from the farmer in wagon or truck lots and ship it to the terminal elevator via rail. Because "country elevators" were used for shipping grain rather than for long-term storage, they generally held only between 25,000 to 35,000 bushels.

The Milwaukee Elevator is built with cribbed construction, a series of interlocking bins, which is stronger and more expensive to build than studded construction. The origins of cribbed construction dates to the 1860's and generally went out of practice after 1900.

Grain was deposited into a gravity bin on the west side of the structure. Legs then carried the grain to the various cribs. The railroad tracks were directly in front of the elevator on the east side, and grain was gravity fed out into the waiting railcars for shipment.

In 1893, the Preston Times reported: Sunday afternoon the side tracks near the depot were pretty well crowded with cars. We understood that about 40 of them were to be loaded with barley and that it required in the neighborhood of 30 or more to take away the grain stored away in the flathouses and elevators at this place.

"The elevator is one the last gravity fed elevators in the United States," Nelson said. "It links us to the railroad that ran past the elevator and our strong agricultural community that it once served."

The elevator, which was last used to store grain in the 1980's, was originally scheduled to be restored as part of the trail head development project, but was dropped because of the extra costs it brought to the trail project. The city still owns the property and according to Preston City Council Member Steve Knoepke, the council is open to looking at plans outlining the structures restoration.

"Right now, it's deteriorating and becoming unsafe," Knoepke said. "It would be nice to do something with it."

There will be a town meeting to discuss the Milwaukee Elevator restoration on Tuesday, September 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Community Room at the F&M Community Bank. At that time, the possibility of creating a Preston Historical Society will also be discussed.

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