The Neligh Mill State Historic Site is operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society. The mill, built in 1873, is the only nineteenth century flour mill in the state with all of its original equipment intact. The mill complex includes the main mill building, the elevators, the office, and reconstructed flume and penstock. The history of the Neligh Mill spans almost 100 years, from construction in 1873 to its final days as a feed mill in 1969. If you have any questions regarding the Neligh Mill, just ask the curator.
Historic photographs document the physical changes to the mill over the years.
Other sources of mill information.
HISTORY OF THE NELIGH MILL
As settlement moved across Nebraska, the need arose for flour mills to grind the settlers' cereal grains into flour and other mill products. The Neligh Mill served that capacity for over seventy-five years and was one of Nebraska's major flouring mills.
THE EARLY YEARS
Construction of the brick mill building was started in 1873 by the town's founder, John D. Neligh, but W. C. Gallaway, an early Neligh businessman, assumed ownership and saw to the structure's completion. Gallaway improved the brush dam on the Elkhorn River, rebuilt the flume, and installed a horizontal water turbine to power the drive works in the basement of the mill. Two run of stone burrs were put in, and the mill commenced grinding on August 29, 1874. Later, in 1878, two more burrs were added, increasing production.
Earliest photograph of the mill, about 1885. [N418.9-5]
The 1880's brought the modern steel roller process to Nebraska, and in 1886 the Neligh Mill converted to the new system. The stone burrs were removed and replaced by seven stands of Allis rollers. The new rollers improved the quality of the mill's flour and also increased its capacity to 140 barrels of flour a day. Along with regular commercial orders, the mill received government contracts from the Indian Bureau and the War Department. Neligh flour was shipped to the Indian reservations in South Dakota and to military posts in the Department of the Platte, including Fort Robinson. During these years, the mill also exported sizable quantities of flour to England. To keep up with the growing number of orders, the mill was operated twenty four hours a day as much as possible. This, of course, was determined by the condition of the river--too much or too little water limited production.
Neligh Mill, about 1909. [N418.9-20]
S. F. GILMAN OWNERSHIP
In 1894 Gallaway gave up the mill, and S. F. Gilman of Davenport, Iowa, eventually became owner and proprietor. During the Gilman years the mill was greatly improved. The drive cable from the penstock was replaced by a twelve-inch-wide leather belt, creating more horsepower to run the mill machinery. To utilize the river water-power more efficiently, Gilman rebuilt the dam and improved the extensive system of dikes that became necessary on the south side of the river. A bypass spillway to better handle high water conditions was constructed on the dike one-quarter mile west of the dam. With the water power of the Elkhorn River better harnessed, the mill began generating electricity for the town of Neligh. Another turbine was added, and electrical power created by water power was produced from 1900 to 1915. The growing demand for electricity in 1915 brought the installation of a 225 horsepower diesel engine to provide power for the generator.
The mill continued to provide electrical service to the town until 1925 when the power plant was sold to Tri-State Utilities Co. of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
S. F. Gilman died in 1915 and Joseph Spirk, the mill manager, became proprietor and eventually owner.
Mill interior showing Allis rollers. [N418.9-67]
THE 1915 TO 1969 PERIOD
World War I kept the mill bustling although strict government milling regulations put a limit on sales. With restrictions on flour purchases and use, substitutes such as corn meal had to be manufactured, and the mill received orders from other mills that lacked the equipment for their production. The final effort to continue the use of water power necessitated the construction of a new flume and penstock in 1919. However, the great flood of 1920 broke the dam and forced the abandonment of water power, and afterwards electricity powered the mill.
The hard years of the 1920s and the Depression of the 1930s forced many Nebraska mills to close, but the Neligh Mill remained open. World War II brought an increase of flour production to the mill, but after the war production dropped. By 1959 the mill ceased to manufacture flour altogether. Although the final years of operation were spent as a feed mill, none of the flour milling machinery was removed. The last owners, Adina Vidstedt and Jay Ames, wanted the mill to be preserved, and consequently nothing was taken out. In 1969 the mill was obtained by the Nebraska State Historical Society with the assistance of local contributions.
Today the old mill is operated as a historic site by the Nebraska State Historical Society. It is the last complete nineteenth century flour mill in Nebraska. Exhibits on the mill's history and operation are now found in the 1886 warehouse addition and in the 1915 addition that once housed the electrical power plant. The small mill office building is restored and contains its original furnishings. Just south of the mill, the 1919 flume has been reconstructed, and on the river the remains of the mill dam can be seen. The Neligh Mill commemorates the importance of the flour mill in the settlement and development of Nebraska and the West.
Other sources of mill information:
Neligh Mill State Historic Site, A Self-Guided Tour, by Kent Martin.
Water Powered Flour Mills in Nebraska, by Thomas Buecker.
The Neligh Mills Cookbook, edited by Lynne Ireland.
Flour Milling in Nebraska (Educational Leaflet Number 17), by Thomas Buecker.
All of these publications are available at the Neligh Mill State Historic Site or can be ordered from the NSHS Store.
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