Messer/Mayer Mill Improvements
What is that old rundown building tucked back in the woods off Pleasant Hill Road in Richfield, Wisconsin? Raccoons probably have a heyday in there. It sure looks like a fire hazard. However, the Town of Richfield and a group of Town residents didn't feel that way about the Messer/Mayer Mill. The Town purchased the Mill and Homestead property in 1998. The Town Chairman, Ralph Schulteis, said, "It would be shame to let this go." A local newspaper stated "By buying Mayer's Mill, Richfield preserves a piece of Town's past."
Once the property was purchased, the newly formed Richfield Historical Society (RHS) took over the restoration and maintenance of all the buildings on the Messer/Mayer Homestead. The historic buildings are all there—just like they were when the last mill operator, George Mayer, left the property in 1971.
What has been done to the Mill by the Society with its "Can Do" attitude since the property was purchased? The list is pretty lengthy. The first order of business was to get rid of the branches that had grown right through the roof. Handel’s Tree Service donated their services to tackle that problem. Once that was completed, Foresters Roofing donated and placed a huge blue tarp over the roof to cover the holes left by the branches that had been removed.
Volunteers at Work--
The mill and the other buildings on the property were cleaned out—taking away all the debris that had accumulated over the years. Dan Wittenberger and a crew of RHS volunteers removed the old rotted material and replaced it with cedar shingles which matched the character of the mill. If you would visit the 3rd floor of the Mill today, you would not recognize that the roof had been replaced.
Every piece of the siding on the Mill had to be replaced. Before it could be replaced, it had to be painted. So, the Society organized 'painting parties.' The long pieces of siding were placed on a customized rack and the coat of primer plus two coats of Mill red paint meticulously covered each piece. Wonder if the volunteer painters still have any of those clothes that probably had more red paint on them than was on the siding. Those 'painting parties' were a lot of fun and helped bond the Society members. As the siding was painted, completed boards were installed on the Mill. This project took two years –2002 through 2004
Because either the windows were broken or the frames were rotted, all 25 of the windows had to be rebuilt and the glass replaced. This was a painstaking job and required the skills of woodworkers. Fortunately, the Society had such talented volunteers who took on this task. Most of the glass was replaced with the old-fashioned type that has 'swirls' when you look through it—giving the mill an authentic look.
With the roof, windows, and siding all in place, the animals lost their happy home. The rain, sleet, and snow would no longer play havoc with the valuable original equipment inside the Mill--the millstones, sifting machines, hoppers, grain elevators, roller mills, and much more.
Work then turned to the inside of the Mill. In 2002, Bender Builders from Beaver Dam, jacked up and straightened the interior of the Mill. Because the roof had leaked for so many years, much of the flooring had rotted. In 2003 and 2004, basswood boards were cut from the trees that were taken down from the overgrown property. This lumber was used to repair the 2nd and 3rd floors. Two stands of the roller mills (a newer method of grinding grain) were refurbished. Additional repairs have been made to the beams, joists, and flooring on the 3rd level. One of the sifting machines has been reworked. A set of gravity elevators now moves grain from floor to floor.
Many tours go through the Mill during the Events of the Society. There was always a bottleneck in getting visitors from the 2nd floor down to the 1st floor with only one set of stairs. This situation was remedied by putting in another flight of stairs so visitors can go up to the 2nd floor via one set of stairs but return to the 1st floor via the new set—much more efficient. The stairs were built to look as if they had always been there.
Let’s move back to the outside for further improvements. The water chase which will eventually carry water into the Mill to power the turbine was rebuilt as an Eagle Scout project. However, until approval and funds can be obtained to reconstruct the dam for a mill pond, the Mill will need a different power source. This will be a 1913 Superior gas engine very similar to the one that once ran the Mill during some of its lifetime. This was purchased in 2006. The front steps were moved to the west side and steps were built on the east side to replicate the original look of the front of the Mill.
Restoring the Foundation--
As time took its toll on the limestone mortar and stone foundation, large cracks were found and stones were falling out of place. After over 150 years, this wasn't unexpected. Much consideration was given to this situation, and in 2009 the foundation was stabilized by Marion Restoration until the funds could be raised to restore the foundation to pristine condition. Because the entire building will shake when the millstones will eventually turn, the foundation must be firm.
Finally, sufficient funds were raised to restore part of the foundation (Phase 1). In 2013, the northern basement wall and portions of the east and west walls were tuckpointed and repaired. One part of the west basement wall had to be rebuilt entirely. The remainder of the east and west walls as well as the very tall south wall still needs to be rebuilt. Fundraising efforts continue at this time to finance that very expensive project.
During Phase 1 of the foundation restoration, the basement stairs had been dismantled. This stairway has been rebuilt in a much sturdier fashion. Also, a door opening was added to the basement so tours can now see that portion of this Mill.
During Phase 2 of the restoration, a path leading to the basement was made, a door was hand built for the opening, a retaining wall was put in place with an attractive safety railing across the top.
Complete the restoration of the remaining section of the foundation—hardest and most expensive part. Dig out the Leffel turbine which will eventually be powered by water from the Coney Creek. Get all of the shafting connected so the large millstones can once again make wheat into flour. Click here to find out how you can help with this major restoration. "Let's Get the Mill Grinding"