Enjoying Beckman Mill
For years I’ve wanted to check out Rock County’s Beckman Mill Park. On Saturday, with our grandkids along, we finally did it. We took Highway 11 west toward Footville and then turned south on County H. It only seemed like we must have already reached Illinois before we came to the park, just north of the state line and 20 miles from our start.
The park has a museum building that was closed, but the visitors center/gift shop was open. Workers were setting up chairs for an outdoor wedding near the mill pond.
We took the tour of the mill after paying the suggested offering of $3 per adult. Inside, guide Bob Schindler showed us around and encouraged the kids to stand on a big scale for weighing and to grind kernels off a cob of corn and then mash those kernels into pieces in smaller machines. He told us of the workings of the three-story building and its elevators and how an old tractor engine would work the stone wheels that grind corn, oats and other grains into feed if the water on the mill’s dam was too high or too low. After evening rains, it was probably too high Saturday; waters downstream from the dam were overflowing their banks.
This, however, wasn’t one of the special summer days when volunteers actually put the mill to work.
The mill is great for photographs. Outside, I spent considerable time framing it in various ways.
We stopped briefly to watch a group of adults painting “barn quilts” at the adjacent Welty Environmental Center. We also hiked through the marsh on the gravel path and wooden walkways, a trip of less than a mile.
William Howe actually built the mill in 1868 on Coon Creek, at the site of the 1845 Goodhue distillery, which had burned. Howe ran it several years, and in 1882, August Beckmann (spelled with a double “n” on the park’s website) bought it from subsequent owners and operated it until he died in 1908. Beckmann’s sons Charles and Henry later operated it, and in 1978 the family sold the property to Rock County. The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. The nonprofit Friends of Beckman Mill, founded in 1990, did great work to restore the mill and property.
It was time well spent and offered great insight into our heritage and the inventiveness and ingenuity of our forefathers. I’d love to go back and see the mill at work.
Check out upcoming events, including milling demonstrations, at beckmanmill.org.
Tour guide Bob Schindler explains how the grindstones worked.
Glen Loyd has a whole video blog about Rock River snakes on our website; here’s a snake I found on a grassy path at Beckman Mill Park. If it’s a common garter snake, I was surprised at how large it was. Can anyone identify it? (If I'd have seen some of those Glen shows in his video, I'd have been scampering in the other direction!)
Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter or