Wapsipinicon Mill Brochure

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Owned and operated by the Buchanan County Historical Society

Partner Site of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Grist mills provide a rich architectural legacy.  The Wapsipinicon Mill is a unique and outstanding example of how Iowans captured the power of rivers for commercial development.  As pioneers moved and settled across Iowa, the need arose for flour mills.  Wheat was the main crop in Iowa in this time period.

Bread, in a times, and in most cultures is considered the staff of life.  Therefore, grinding the settlers’ wheat into flour and other grains into various mill products for a fast-growing population was of the utmost importance.  The Wapsipinicon Mill served in this capacity for over 100 years.


On March 7, 1867, one woman Clara B. Snow and 32 business men, all residents of Independence, organized the Independence Mills Company.  The purpose of this company was to buy the water power and build a merchants flouring mill.  This company later purchased the flour mill at Quasqueton, Iowa, in April 1871.

In June of 1867, millwright Samuel Sherwood accepted the contract to build the Wapsipinicon Mill, one of the largest grist mills in Iowa.  From June 1867 to the fall of 1868 boulders of granite were pulled from the Buchanan County prairie.  This feat was accomplished with the aid of a horse dawn stone puller (displayed outdoors at the mill site).  These boulders were brought to the work site, dressed and cut to be used in the mill foundation.  Samuel Sherwood and Alex Hathaway worked together to discover a way to cut these huge glacial erratic boulders into what you now see in the mill foundation.  The first floor (basement) walls are built of Farley Limestone.  The cost of the foundation and the old style buhr systerm was $30,000 in the year 1869.

This superstructure was constructed using a heavy timber frame encased with a brick wall 8 inches thick.  The walls were constructed in a barn raising fashion.  In effect the Mill is a brick building strengthened by a timber frame.  The foundation dimensions are 62’ x 112’ and rises six stories in height or 102 ft. from the base of the foundation to the top of the roof.  Hand cut wooden shingles covered the roof.  Located at the west end of the main street bridge, it serves as the cornerstone tying the city of Independence and Wapsipinicon River together.

The interior of the building reveals hand hewn timbers and superb craftsmanship.  Mortise and tenon construction was used throughout the building, complete with square nails and large wooden pegs.  Part of the lumber can be traced to Knapp Lumber Yard in Menomine, Wisc.  The total cost of the mill and water privilege in 1870 was $100,000.


Homesteaders purchased land for $1.25 an acre and it was also the wage paid for a weeks work.  Gold was the currency in this time period and difficult to obtain.  The barter method was frequently used.  The miller would grind the farmer’s grain and retain a portion of the grain as toll.

Iowa’s rich black soil proved favorable to other crops and in the early 1900’s farmers began to diversify.  Due to the change in farming operations, corn, oats, rye and soybeans came into favor to meet a growing need for livestock and poultry feed.  Over the years, the mill was modernized to increase output and efficiency.  Roller mills replaced the original millstone equipment, water power and water wheels/turbines were replaced by a steam boiler and a one cylinder steam engine.

With the addition of a corn sheller, attrition mill and mixer, the Wapsipinicon Mill continued to serve the rural community.  This modernization did not diminish the quaint charm of this building or lessen the importance of the miller’s story.


Step back in time and relive the experience of pioneer grist milling.  View original 1870 millstones, belt and bucket elevators, grain storage bins, shafts and gearing, milling machines and various milling equipment.  Visit this significant, vital historical attraction.  Photo exhibits, interactive displays and interpretive exhibits plus numerous pioneer agricultural artifacts await you.  The Wapsipinicon Mill links the pioneer farmer to agricultural modernization and tells the miller’s story of how the mill served to provide the early settler with processed food and then feed for livestock.


The Mill’s history is comprised of many interesting stories.  Around 1915, the Mill produced electricity for its own use and secretly for one other consumer, the Gedney Hotel.  A cable was laid along the river bed through the basement of a store and then under the street to supply electricity at lower than city rates.  City officials were at a loss for some time to explain the well lighted Gedney Hotel, because it purchased no city power.  When the source of power was discovered, City officials requested the Wapsipinicon Mill produce electricity for the entire city in addition to the production of livestock feed.  Business continued in this manner for many years.

The millstones consisting of a stationary stone and a runner stone were used for the last time in 1942 by millers, Fred Potts and Jesse P. Zimmerly, when they ground a ton of buckwheat shipped in by rail from South Dakota.  The Burris and Soener Café (a local eating establishment) had requested the Wapsipinicon Mill fill their order for stone ground buckwheat flour to make buckwheat pancakes.  Buckwheat flour was in short supply due to World War 11.

In 1975 the Wapsipinicon Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by Mrs. Oliver M. Greenley.  On December 27, 1976, Mr. & Mrs. Oliver M. Greenley turned over the keys, abstract and deed of the Wapsipinicon Mill to the Buchanan County Historical  Society.


The Buchanan County Historical  Society has established displays and exhibits to interpret the 1870’s grain-milling process and explain the importance and relationship of farming methods, farm commodities grown and harvested, and the processing techniques used to produce foods.  This plan incorporates thematic zones and activities that will explain the history of early local agriculture and the importance of providing raw commodities for milling.  The Mill Museum provides an agricultural timeline telling three stories: The first is the changing emphasis of agricultural production on the farm, second is the rise of science in more recent agriculture, and third is the expansion of farm related industries.

The Wapsipinicon Mill Museum is open mid-May thru mid-September

Tuesday thru Sunday
12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Main floor is handicapped accessible Restrooms
DVD to view all 6 floors

319-334-4616 or 319-334-7178