Lidtke Mill turns 35 since rebirth

Appreciate 95º weather now?
Here is a scene of Lidtke Mill from the middle of winter. If you want to visit the mill, this weekend would be a great time.

by Marcie Klomp

It was 35 years ago that Lidtke Mill was given new life in the form of becoming a National Historic Place.

Lime Springers are proud of their historical landmark, as the sign out on Highway 63 proclaims “Lime Springs—Best Town by a Dam Site.” But when was the last time they visited the Mill?

They are quick to attend Buckwheat Pancake Day in early June and this Sunday’s Ice Cream Social, but how about taking a tour? A dedicated volunteer staff are at the mill site every Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer from 1:00-4:00. Give them something to do and visit the mill house and mill.

Why the big deal? Lidtke Mill is special because it still has its guts. Many of the old mills have been torn down and their insides sold—Chester, Hill’s Mill, Foreston, Florenceville/ Granger, Vernon. Not so with Lidtke Mill.

~ The scale where farmers weighed their wagons is still there.

~ The generator and turbines are there, which were installed in the early 1900s.

~ The roller mill, which was used to grind the buckwheat flour is still at Lidtke Mill. The roller mill was faster than using the stones.

~ The aspirator is still in the mill. The aspirator cleans the flour by running it through the silk screens.

~ Milling equipment in the grinding room includes the burr mill, upright mixer, scale and bagging machine.

~ Even the original outhouse is still in the building!

The mill was originally built by M.M. Marsh on the Upper Iowa River at Lime Springs in 1857. It was originally a lumber saw mill because lumber is what was needed to build dwellings.

In the 1860s it ground wheat into flour and became famous for its buckwheat flour (hence Buckwheat Pancake Day). The wheat was sold all over the world.

When the Drakes purchased the mill in 1871, flour was ground night and day, with up to 100 barrels of flour daily sent to Eastern markets. Those were the good ol’ days.

The bad days happened in the 1870s when the cinch bugs destroyed crops and caused thousands of Iowans to abandon their land. That was followed by another failure due to weather.

By 1894 Reed & Heath’s Victor Roller Mills was running, but was completely destroyed by fire.

But Howard County folks are a tough lot. James Safford purchased the site and erected a feed mill.

He installed the McCormick turbine water wheel, investing a whopping $500 in it. He was able to make electricity which he shared with Lime Springs (the Old Town), Lime Spring (no “s”) the new town and Chester.

In 1915 D.W. Davis purchased the property and enlarged the facilities. It was managed by his son-in-law, Herman Lidtke. In 1916 the old dam was rebuilt at a cost of $6,000.

Herman Lidtke became owner and operated the Mill until it closed in the 1960s.

The mill house that sits next to the mill is also part of the tour and shows what life was like back in the late 1800s for the miller and his family.

In 1977 the Lidtke Mill complex was designated a National Historic Place, letting America know what locals already knew—that Lidtke Mill has a special place in history.



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