Messer/Mayer Mill & Homestead
Imagine a horse drawn wagon pulling up to the loading dock of this 150-year-old majestic 3-story grist (grain) Mill. The grain was unloaded, weighed, and dumped into the hopper. The milling process was ingeniously designed so only one man was needed to operate the Mill. Through a series of gravity-fed elevators and chutes, the grain traveled from floor to floor through sifters, bolting machines and finally to the large millstones to be ground into flour.
All of the equipment in the Mill, from the turbine to the millstones to the sifters, is original to the building. Nothing has changed since it ceased operation over 60 years ago. The turbine is still in place in the basement waiting to once again be powered by water diverted from the Coney Creek that flows through the property.
The Mill, built in 1871, ground wheat, rye and cattle feed for the following 83 years. In 1954, George Mayer, the last Mill operator, closed the doors leaving all of the equipment intact, just waiting to once again grind grain. Wander through the Mill and learn about its operation during one of the Richfield Historical Society’s events when the Mill is open. "Let's Get the Mill Grinding" -- that is the ultimate goal.
Picture horses stamping their feet in cold weather or relaxing in the shade from the hot summer sun. The horseshed was the home for the horses that pulled the grain-laden wagons to the Mill. This building was constructed by Richfield Historical Society volunteers in 2002 to replicate the one that once stood in the same location during the heyday of mill operation.
The white clapboard Mill House sits on the hill to the west of the Mill. It was built by Andrew Messer who also built and operated the grist Mill until his untimely death a few years later. His widow sold the entire property to her husband's uncle, Johann George Mayer; and for almost 100 years, two generations of Mayers lived here and operated the Mill. C.W. and Maryanne Mayer raised 7 children in this House. Their son George and his family were the last to live here and operate the Mill.
The House doubled in size when an addition was completed around 1900. The first floor consists of a kitchen, pantry, sitting room, parlor, sewing room, and utility room. The upper floor has six bedrooms. There is a root cellar where the garden produce was kept and a summer kitchen used for cooking, canning and laundry during the warmer weather. Electricity was added in 1927, and this was one of the last updates. The Mayer family continued to heat with wood burning stoves and no plumbing was ever added to the home. This made it easy to restore the House to the early 1900s. Many of the furnishings are original to the families who lived here. A visit to this House is like stepping back in time.
Think about cutting and stacking cord after cord of wood to keep a house warm in the cold Wisconsin winters. The red building next to the Mill House was once a woodshed. Each fall it was filled to the rafters with wood to be used in the wood burning stoves in the house. Often, it was the children’s job to carry in wood every day. Outside the woodshed you will find a pump which supplied water for the families. Try your hand at bringing up water from the depth of the hand-dug well. The woodshed now houses a butchering display, old tools and shoemaking artifacts.
Have you ever smelled the aroma of pork being smoked? For the families who lived on this self-sustaining farm years ago, this was a common smell in the air. The small red building to the south of the woodshed is the smokehouse. With no electricity during the early years of this farm, pork had to be cured to preserve it. This was done in two steps. Fresh cuts of meat were packed in tubs of coarse salt for about six weeks. Then the salted meats were hung in the smokehouse in which a fire smoldered for one to two weeks. The result was a dried, long-lasting, smoke-flavored meat that would hang to age for two years before eaten.
The 2-holer is just down the hill from the Mill House, but it sure seemed like a long distance to a child who needed to use it in a hurry. Since there was no indoor plumbing, the Mayer families’ toilet was the outhouse. It was located away from the House to keep the flies and smell from disturbing the family’s everyday comfort of living. If a person had to use the toilet during the night, a chamber pot (a ceramic pot with a tight lid) in the House was used and emptied the next day.
Behind the Mill House is a large bank barn. A hilly landscape allowed the barn to be built (i.e., banked) into the hillside. The loft (or upper floor) doors are reached via the high side of the hill. This design allowed a farmer to drive his hay wagon directly into the hay mow, while the lower floor served as a warm, protected space for the horses, cows, and chickens. An interesting exhibit of farming equipment resides in this barn.
Pigs were kept in a pig barn which no longer stands on the property.