Motor Mill Receives Additional Historic Recognition

Clayton County’s 145-year-old Motor Mill, along the Turkey River southeast of Elkader, has received additional recognition from the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

The limestone grist mill, which was built in 1869, has been listed on the National Register since 1977, and now the Motor Mill Historic District has been expanded to about 150 acres, including most of the adjoining land owned by the Clayton County Conservation Board, and a small tract of private land at the former site of the Motor School.

Marlys Svendsen, an historic project specialist for the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department, prepared the amended, 63-page National Register nomination with the help of volunteers and local interviews.

The report was based on extensive research of the history of the site, and changes following the 2008 flood and the 2012 replacement of a historic Motor bridge that was destroyed by the floods of 1991 and 2008.

The updated National Register nomination includes detailed information about the site, beginning with Native American occupation as early as 11,500 B.C. The report traces the European settlement of the region about 1838, construction of the mill and a wooden bridge from 1867-1869, the mill’s operation until 1882, replacement of the wooden bridge with a steel structure in 1899, the mill’s sale to the Klink family in 1903, and the site’s use by farmers until 1983.

The 1977 nomination was limited to the mill itself, four other limestone buildings constructed about the same time as the mill, and a rare steel bridge built in 1899. Svendsen’s update cited evidence of 10 other historic buildings or archeological sites at Motor. Although several of the structures apparently were taken down soon after the mill ceased operating in the 1880s, the school was used until the 1940s. The school building was sold for salvage for $95 in 1954.

Motor Mill is open for regular tours given by Motor Mill Foundation volunteers from noon to 5 p.m. on alternate Saturdays and Sundays from May through September. For a 2014 tour schedule, visit For more information, or to arrange group tours, call the Clayton County Conservation Board at (563) 245-1516.