After losing a conditional use permit last November, the Arcola Mills historic foundation had their work cut out for them to bring the site of their historic mansion up to code. A number of dangerously dilapidated cabins from the 1970s needed to be removed, and one of them would take extra care because it was situated on the ruins of a historic sawmill. 

The foundation’s 12 river-loving, mostly local, mostly young board members set to work with zeal, getting more done in one season than had been done in the past decade. 

“We removed all of the cabins last November and early December,” said Alexa Eickschen, board chair. “We received a Minnesota Legacy Grant from the Minnesota Historical Foundation in 2019 (to remove the cabin over the sawmill). That allowed us to work with a local architecture firm and local engineers to remove the structure in a safe way. 

“The chimney structure itself, the historic part, that is still intact. The foundation of the floor is still there, the old limestone. You can almost see where the old water wheel would have been that the streams powered. 

“It’s amazing to walk down there now and see the viewshed. It’s beautiful.” 

With visitors still on hold due to COVID and the lack of a conditional use permit, the foundation board and volunteers have been focused on preservation, maintenance and getting the mansion (Eickschen calls it the Grand Old Lady) ready for unveiling in 2022 when Arcola Mills turns 175 years old.

“We’re really excited and looking forward to celebrating this historic site with our community,” Eickschen said, but they’ve got one more big project they’d like to complete before the celebration, if possible. 

“The Arcola site has nine natural streams so it’s a very moisture-dense environment. Wood rots quickly here so we’d like to get a fresh coat of paint on the mansion before we have our 175th birthday,” Eickschen said. Bids for that project have ranged from $30,000 to $60,000. 

“It’s all wood so the work is pretty meticulous,” Eickschen explained. “All these grooves in the Greek Revival style… all the shutters have to be taken off and painted and then rehung. It’s labor intensive.” 

This year the work of their 20 volunteers and 12 board members has been supplemented by help from the two Rotary Clubs of Stillwater, the Boy Scouts of Bayport, and several local businesses they partnered with through Community Thread in Bayport. 

But Eickschen said they would like to build their own volunteer base for ongoing help with future programs, cleaning, ground maintenance, and buckthorn removal on the 50-acre site. Those interested in volunteering can contact Alexa Eickschen at info@arcolamills.org or through their website at https://www.arcolamills.org.

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