The Turkey River south of Elkader meanders through scenic countryside and paddlers will be thrilled to discover a secluded section of river that is both beautiful and rich with wildlife. Especially exciting is the final bend before access point number 32 where a giant six-story limestone building unexpectedly rises up out of the river.
Constructed in 1869, the 90-foot tall Motor Mill has an imposing presence. With foundation walls five feet thick and a great expanse of locally quarried stone, it is an icon of regional history. Three men by the names of John Thompson, J.P. Dickinson and James Crosby chose the site in 1867as the ideal location for a settlement. They partnered to build a grist mill”finer and bigger than any that had yet been conceived by pioneers.” The result, Motor Mill, was indeed an architectural feat and required an equally impressive dam to provide power. Even at low water, the associated 200-footlong dam could turn out 250 horsepower. Following the construction of the mill,an inn, livery, ice house and a cooperage were built on site. This complex,which at one time produced 1500 bushels of wheat per week, now stands as a reminder of our ancestors’ ingenuity, craftsmanship and vision.
The 155-acre historic site is owned and managed by the Clayton County Conservation Board who oversees the preservation of the structures as well as the stewardship of the surrounding prairie and oak savanna. Scenic hiking trails and a riverside campground are maintained for public enjoyment. Camping rates are $10/night.
Iowa once boasted 700 grist mills, now very few remain.Visit the Motor Mill Historic Park by canoe or by car. For directions to the park or to learn about tours and annual events call Clayton County Conservation Board at 563-245-1516 or visit www.motormill.org. To download a copy of the Turkey River water trail map visit www.turkeyriver.org.