Neither nails nor pegs hold Pickwick Mill together. These days, it’s mostly grants and the dedication of a few community members.
The nonprofit Pickwick Mill Inc. has received a $29,130 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to repair the 120-year-old commercial gritsmill. The work begins next month.
“We wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t for grants,” said tour guide and mill worker Vick Gardner. “It’s time, after all these years, that we have to do some maintenance work.”
The mill is one of the oldest standing structures in Winona County. It has withstood floods, a tornado and grueling winters since it was built in 1854. The grant will pay to repair mortar joints, replace loose and missing stone, shore up a large hole to accommodate a turbine belt and patch deteriorating plaster walls.
But much of Pickwick Mill’s survival can also be credited to Opal Fitch, president of Pickwick Mill Inc.
“She’s a walking history book,” Gardner said.
In 1980, the mill was set to be torn down — until Fitch and several townspeople formed the nonprofit.
Since then, she, Gardner and his wife have shared the stories of the mill with tourists from all over the world.
Pickwick Mill is one of the largest mills and first community businesses in Minnesota, Fitch said. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I think everyone realizes what we have here,” she said. “There’s so much to learn, and if the people weren’t dedicated, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
Gardner guesses half the community has been involved with the mill in one way or another over the years, even if it was just stopping in for a tour. And more visitors than usual seem to be trickling in this year.
“We must’ve done something right when we see (people) come back again,” he said.
Pickwick Mill Inc. board member Margaret Johnson said the repairs must be completed by next June.
“We don’t have a lot of time since we can’t work in the winter,” she said. “But it won’t interrupt anything.”
The mill will celebrate Pickwick Mill Day on Sept. 11 and continue to offer tours during the construction.
“We learn as we go,” Gardner said. “The mill didn’t come with instruction books.”