On the Road to Pickwick: A magical mill comes to life - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

On the Road to Pickwick: A magical mill comes to life

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The rustic "Pickwick Mill" sign tells visitors the unique origin of the name. The rustic "Pickwick Mill" sign tells visitors the unique origin of the name.
This overshot water wheel amazes visitors. A similar wheel powered the mill for four decades. This overshot water wheel amazes visitors. A similar wheel powered the mill for four decades.
Tour guide Vic Gardener has countless stories to share about the mill's past. Tour guide Vic Gardener has countless stories to share about the mill's past.
The dark interior of the mill makes for a sharp contrast with a bright summer day. The dark interior of the mill makes for a sharp contrast with a bright summer day.
PICKWICK, Minn. (KTTC) -

Charles Dickens once wrote, "This is a world for Action." 

A Winona County community took action decades ago to save a local treasure, one named after Dickens' first novel.

The familiar sound of rushing water greets visitors to historic Pickwick Mill, right off of Winona County Road 7, about two miles inland from the Mississippi River. 

A walk through its doors and into its dark interior reveals a far stranger tune. 

Six stories of gears, belts, and pulleys rattle off the impressively built wooden walls. 

Vic Gardener has been a tour guide at Pickwick for years. Talking with a group of visitors, he points towards a lift system that transports grain throughout the structure.

"When they go up, they dump over, and they go continuously around," he explains. 

Gardener has been with the mill for 16 years, after retiring from his life of farming. 

He loves teaching the magic of the mill to wide-eyed visitors. 

 "They can ask a lot of questions and we better have the right answers," he said. 

Those answers stem from a maze of machinery from different eras of milling history, all scattered about the mill's six floors.

The bottom floor is underground. Its damp air is incredibly cooler than the mill's top floor, which bakes any guest braving the climb up several narrow staircases. 

All of the machines move about, powered by a massive 20 by 4 foot  overshot water wheel. 

"Anybody that walks out that door and takes one look at that says oh, Wow!'" Gardener said. 

 "Cause the wheel is running, and there's a lot of wheel. There's not too many of them around like that."

Laurie and Leslie Lloyd stumbled onto the mill while the two were camping in the area. 

"I think the fact that the wheel can run four stories of processes by itself is pretty amazing," Laurie said. 

The wheel is a replica of the one the mill had until the turn of the 20th century, when it was replaced by a more efficient turbine. 

In its heyday, the mill could produce 100 barrels of flour a day, each weighing 196 pounds. 

Those barrels were shipped all across the country, even helping feed the Union Army during the Civil War. 

Pickwick Mill shut down in 1978, and just two years later a flood threatened its future. 

"They were going to tear this all down," Gardener said. "The Local people got together and formed Pickwick Mill Incorporated."

Pickwick Mill, Inc. is a private non-profit that maintains the mill. Anyone who becomes a member owns the mill. 

That's something the group says is unique to Pickwick. 

Leslie Lloyd spent his whole life in the agriculture industry, and sees the restored mill as a chance for kids to learn the origins of their food. 

"If we could get more kids into places like this and [have them] say 'oh that's where flour comes from'." he said.

 "They may not know what wheat is, much less the process. I just that connectivity to our food is missing."

Gardener also has a great reason to make sure kids spend time at the mill. 

"I hope we can get some young people involved here and get them interested in maintaining this," Gardener said. 

With many of the members well past retirement, fresh faces could make sure this wheel spins for decades to come. 

"It would be a complete crime to let it go," Gardener said. 

Pickwick mill is open Tuesday through Saturday, May through October.

The annual 'Pickwick Mill Days' celebration is Saturday, Sept. 9. 

The day-long festivities include plenty of food and music, plus free tours. 

The mill's address is 26421 County Rd 7, Winona, MN 55987.

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