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Lidtke Mill in Lime Springs a historical treasure

Fri, Aug 3rd, 2012
Posted in All Arts & Culture

By Jade Sexton

Lime Springs is a small town in Iowa, right near the Minnesota border that is home to something big. The Lidtke Mill has been there since 1857. At one time, there were 13 mills along the Upper Iowa River, and the Lidtke Mill is the last one standing.

According to Jerry White, member of the Lidtke Mill board, the mill and the miller’s house next to it were restored in 1974. In 1976, they were put on the registry of National Historic Sites.

The home next to the mill, where the miller would live with his family, has been restored to what it would have looked like with a family living in it in the late 1800s, complete with wood stove, furniture, clothing, kitchen stove and cooking utensils, photographs, and chamber pots in the bedrooms. Phyl Stevenson is one of the volunteers that give tours of the home, and describes what life was like for the people who lived there. There is also a gift shop for visitors who wish to take home a souvenir.

Melvin Monroe Marsh first built the mill in 1857. Various other people owned and ran the mill during the years that it was running. D.W. Davis bought the mill in 1915. Herman Lidtke married Davis’s daughter, and took over ownership until 1960, when he closed up the business. When he did that, he merely locked the doors, leaving everything behind. He left tools, machines, and even paperwork behind, and all of that still remains.

“At first they sawed timber to build homes here, and it was a saw mill,” said White. “At first they used the water wheel, then later the turbines.”

Water from the Upper Iowa River was used to run the mill, and the hydroelectricity ran power to the towns of Chester and Lime Springs. “The electricity would be on from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day,” explained Stevenson. She added that at 10:45 p.m., they would flash the lights quickly to warn people, and then it would be turned off right at 11:00.

Herman Lidtke purchased special French burr grinding stones from Iowa Governor Larabee in Clermont, Iowa and brought them all the way to Lime Springs. White explained they eventually changed the way they ground the grains, and stopped using the stones. One of the stones can be seen built right into a house on the property owned by the Lidtke family.

The most common wheat ground at the mill was buckwheat. On a tour of the mill, there are samples of what the grain looks like before and after it is ground. Later, they also ground corn and oats for farmers. An old Fairbanks scale, which is still in place, was used to weigh the grains.

“Five guys worked here for 50 cents a day, plus meals,” said White. “The miller’s wife would cook for all the men.”

The mill sees anywhere from 200-300 people a year come through for a tour. White said they also do tours for local schools to teach them the history of Iowa, the town, and the mill.

White has been on the board for the Lidtke Mill since 1986, and has been giving tours ever since. There are many people that volunteer their work for the historic site giving tours and helping out in the gift shop.

The town has fundraisers every year to help raise money to maintain their historical site. According to White, in three years they raised enough money to replace the roof on the mill. They also receive donations throughout the year. In June, they have a buckwheat pancake breakfast, and in August Lime Springs has their Sweet Corn Days celebration.

Tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays from 1pm-4pm. Come to Lime Springs, Iowa and see their historic treasure, take a trip back to the past with a tour, and enjoy free sweet corn and many other festivities during the 30th Annual Sweet Corn Days August 10-12.

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