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Clayton County to celebrate new bridge, other Motor Mill projects

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 05/06/2013 11:21 AM

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ELKADER, Iowa — The Turkey River bridge is open and restoration continues at the Motor Mill site.

The Clayton County Conservation Board and the Motor Mill Foundation are hosting a grand opening festival from 11 a.m. To 2 p.m. May 4 at the historic site southeast of Elkader.

A tour will take in the new bridge and the mill. Visitors will view displays from partners in the Motor Mill and Turkey River preservation efforts and hear from leaders of the conservation projects.

There will be a continuous showing of photos of the bridge construction many taken and assembled by Larry Stone, Motor Mill Foundation secretary. Marlys Svendsen will provide a program on the history of the Motor Mill site.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Turkey River Recreational Corridor, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area, Clayton and Fayette County Tourism groups and Upper Mississippi Gaming will all have exhibits, and the National Brass quintet will perform.

Tours and a food concession operated by the Elkader Lions Club will open at 11 a.m., and a formal program will begin at 1 p.m. Featured speakers are Mark Ackelson, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation; Don Menken, former director of the Clayton County Conservation Board; and representatives of Silos and Smokestacks, the Motor Mill Foundation and the Clayton County Board of Supervisors.

A "turkey dash'' will follow the formal ceremony. For a $5 donation, participants will be given a floating turkey to release in the river in a race to win prizes.

"We have floating turkeys instead of rubber ducks because this is the Turkey River," said John Nikolai, president of the Motor Mill Foundation.

The Motor Mill and the small community that grew up around it were built in the late 1860s. The mill ceased operations in the 1880s and was later sold for $12,000. After functioning as a farm for many years, it was purchased by the Clayton County Conservation Board in 1983.

The scenic iron bridge, which was built in the 1898, was destroyed by floods in 1991 and 2008.

Construction on the new bridge started in October and was completed Dec. 5. Nikolai said the one-lane bridge was engineered to be large enough to accommodate a road grader, an ambulance or a fully loaded fire truck. The bridge, built by Minnowa Construction, is designed to look like the old iron truss bridge.

The $1 million bridge project included grants from FEMA, Resource Enhancement and Protection, Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation, Iowa Great Places, and donations from the Motor Mill Foundation capital campaign. Nikolai said that the foundation still must raise $90,000 for the bridge.

Up to 15 feet of silt must be removed from the mill's basement. The cooperage and ice house need new roofs, and the cooperage needs new windows, tuckpointing and chimney repairs.The inn flooded in 2008, and it's floors are rotted.

From 2002 to 2012, 11,979 volunteer hours were donated toward Motor Mill projects.

"Much has been done but there is much that needs to be done," Nikolai said. "We need more money to continue our restoration work."

The Motor Mill was recently honored for Outstanding Preservation in Agriculture by Silos and Smokestacks National Historic Area. It was also honored as People's Choice Site of the Year.

Donations for the bridge and restoration projects can be sent to the Motor Mill Foundation or Clayton County Conservation at 
29862 Osborne Rd., Elkader IA 52043.

Free Motor Mill tours are available from noon to 5 p.m. two weekends per month May to September or group tours by appointment. For more information visit or call (563) 245-1516.