This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight.
Even though as many as 21 mills were built in Goodhue County during the height of the flour-milling era in the 1860s and 1870s, only one still exists, according to the description on the Minnesota Historic Properties Form that was used to list the mill ruins on National Register of Historic Places on Feb. 12, 1980.
In 1867, two men, Archibald and Wilcox, built a wooden mill near the site, according to Frances E. Haglund in a typewritten manuscript titled “The Old Oxford Mill,” which was dated Oct. 16, 1973, and is stored in the collection at the Goodhue County Historical Society in Red Wing.
The flour produced by the mill was good, because Haglund reports that “the flour from Oxford won a first-place medal during the Centennial in Philadelphia in 1876.”
The award must have inspired Wilcox, because in 1878, he completed construction of a second mill, also called Oxford Mill. The second mill “was larger and the exterior was wholly of the Platteville limestone quarried from the hill a mile or so away,” wrote Haglund.
Most of the machinery from the old mill was transferred to the new four-story mill, which measured 44 feet by 56 feet. The new mill was capable of processing 400 bushels of wheat daily and employed 30-40 men, wrote Haglund.
“From the second story, or maybe even the third, the grain was dropped through a shaft to the center of and between the two stones of the grinding unit,” wrote Haglund. “The bran was discharged into the river and the flour was sacked. An opening to the side of the west door on the first floor had a slatted-conveyor for the loading of the flour to the wagons waiting on the outside of the building.”
A fire in 1905 destroyed much of the interior and the grinding stones and other machinery were later removed.
Visitors today can see the crumbling stone walls, covered in vines, and can look through open windows and doors to see trees growing inside, while imagining the hustle and bustle of an earlier time when the mill was a centerpiece of an active farming community.
If you go...
Name: Oxford Mill Ruins
Address: Oxford Mill Road, Stanton Township, Minn.
Website: The Forgotten Minnesota website has a good story and photos of the mill ruins at http://forgottenminnesota.com/2015/12/oxford-mill-ruin
Admission: This old mill is on private property and not open to the public. Please respect that. The mill is located right next to Oxford Mill Road, so the ruins can be seen easily from the road.