EARLY HISTORY OF THE OLD MILL

Records in three generations of the Hillman family reveal the early beginnings of the Green Lake Flour Mill that became the Green Lake Light and Power Company that became Ye Olde Mill Inn.

George Nichols was the founder of the Green Lake Mill. He was born November 28, 1809, in New York State. It is not known when he came to Minnesota, but he built a grist mill at Cedar City, 10 miles west of Hutchinson, in 1859.

Because of the Indian raids in the area, the Nichols family spent a year in the stockade at Hutchinson. Then they moved to Brownton, where Nichols built a flour mill in the winter of 1862.

In June of 1860, after J. W. Burdick George Nichols and Oliver Taylor had traded claims in the vicinity of the Green Lake inlet, Taylor sold the mill site and the water rights to George Nichols.

In 1867 George Nichols and his son Edgar, a Civil War veteran, built a dam across Crow River at the inlet of Green Lake. They also built a sawmill at the spillway to the east in order to meet the settlers' urgent demands for lumber. A bridge was built also.

 

In 1866 Green Lake Village had been established at the site with a post office because Columbia (Spicer) had no post office after the U.S.‑Dakota Conflict. Three postmasters who served were Oliver Taylor, Sam Adams, and S. C. Hillman. Some mention is made of a Mrs. Sarah Ann Morrill being a postmistress. By 1868 the life of the four‑house village was closely involved with the mill.

The village flourished for several years. The Rev. McGowan, a Presbyterian minister from Harrison, conducted services at Green Lake Village every two weeks during 1868 and 1869. Business, except for that at the grist mill, declined after New London became a trading center.

Soon after erecting the sawmill, George and Edgar Nichols had built a grist mill. Construction was supervised by an early settler and millwright of New London, Charles H. Sperry, who was also the first sheriff of Monongalia County.

The Nichols & Son flour mill was in operation by October of 1867. The two men started a ferry to go on Green Lake, but the hidden sandbars forced many groundings and hampered the success of the ferry. But the flour mill, the first in Monongalia County, continued to flourish.

A sample of prices from a daily record of the flour mill reveals much about the cost of living in the 1869‑1888 period:

  • A barrel of flour  $3.40 to $5.50 (according to grade & year)

  • Bran or ground feed  1/2 cent a lb.

  • Lumber  (pay for by work or money by harvest)

  • One plank (22 ft.)  35 cents

  • Mill picks  $4.05 for pr.

  • 2 loads of wood  75 cents

  • 3 panes of glass  36 cents

  • 1 lamp chimney  20 cents

  • Black mittens  30 cents

  • One suit of clothes  $12.00

  • 3 lbs. nails  24 cents

  • 1 ball of twine  20 cents

  • 4 bushel potatoes  $2.00

  • 1 broom  40 cents

  • 1 lb. tobacco  50 cents

  • 1 day of work  $1.00

  • 1/2 day team work  $2.00

  • 9 days of work at  $15.75

  • 4 weeks house rent  $4.00

  • 4 weeks work for horse  $2.40

  • Boarding 2 men 2 weeks  $4.00

  • Labor a month & board  $30.00

  • For farming 3‑1/4 days  $10.00

  • 1 monkey wrench  80 cents

  • 1 gallon kerosene  60 cents

Items received were wheat, oats, rye, and corn. Products sold included regular flour, bran, rye flour, cornmeal and graham flour.

After the Nichols operations, Oliver Larson leased the mill for a time and then Samuel Adams ran it. In 1887 a freshet washed out the mill dam, so the mill was shut down for awhile. With the dam's restoration and the resumption of activity, all in all, the millstones were in use 45‑50 years.

In 1890 the area adjacent to the mill began to cater to the tourist trade. S. C. Hillman acquired the mill property in 1902 and with his son, Oscar, operated it until 1914. Then they converted the flourmill into the Old Mill Inn for the accommodation of tourists.

On April 20, 1915, Oscar Hillman, receiving a franchise to sell electricity, established the Green Lake Light and Power plant. At first, current was generated only three and one‑half days a week. In 1916 Hillman installed a hydroelectric plant. By 1923 electricity was served to 345 customers around Green Lake. Hillman could also use Northern States Power current when the water was low in the Crow River. In May 1917, electricity was available Monday, Wednesday, and Friday forenoons. Assistants at the power plant were P. L. Peterson, Henry Johnson, and Martin Torgeson, all of New London.

In 1917 Hillman removed the top story of the mill and began building tourist cabins, one or two a year until there were 20. For several years the Hillmans had offered free tenting around the homestead. In time they also owned the Riverside Trailer Park, with 20 stalls for modem trailers with water, sewage, and lights.

In the early 1920's, Hillmans turned a part of the mill into a restaurant. (Menus are reproduced in this book.) When they opened the rest of the mill and added a porch with four booths, they also sold fishing licenses, tackle and bait, and groceries. They advertised: "Green Lake, the gem of the 10,000 lakes, with scenic interest, good fishing, wonderful swimming, beautiful beaches, and cool, clean water. It's restful or exhilarating as the need may be."

The U.S. Department of Fish and Game trapped fish by the Old Mill Inn, stripped the eggs, and took the eggs to the federal hatchery in New London.

Before electric refrigerators were available, ice had to be purchased from the Engwalls in the winter and stored in an ice house. Ice was then used in iceboxes in the cottages and in ice chests for the fish catches.

The Hillmans established the official name of Ye Olde Mill Inn. They maintained the resort until 1948, when Elmer and Loretta Carlson bought it. Succeeding articles relate the mill and resort histories since then.

 

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Green Lake Property Owners Association

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