Beckman Mill: A Beautiful Hangout -
A Place of Idyll
As a teenager growing up in Beloit, I thought I knew where all of the best spots were located. Big Hill Park? Check. Krueger Park? Double check – I loved immersing myself in the pool, especially in the smack dab center of summer.
But – oh, quandary of quandaries – where to else is there around here to enjoy more nature?
Luckily, my friends revealed to me an idyllic place for the hale and healthy. Beckman Mill is off the beaten path, if you will, and that adds to its appeal. One drives and drives and then turns a left onto Mill Pond Road (off of Highway 81) and soon, the Beckman Mill park emerges into sight.
What struck me and continues to make me love the place is the sound of water. Sometimes, I theorize I am especially enamored by water because it is so rare for me to hear it. We Midwesterners have our Lake Michigan and rivers and streams, but the nearest ocean is hundreds of miles away.
The rushing waters fall over the dam, on full display, as well as running down a “ladder” fish can use to get to the proper body of water with nothing else to hinder their journeys. It’s also great fun for us lumbering humans to hop up the enormous flat rocks that curve upwards besides the fish ladder, one step at a time.
Local history breathes yet
I also immediately fell in love with this “out-of-time” place because whenever I visit Beckman Mill, I take a step back into time to a period in which horses worked on the land, men attended to the mill, and women did everything else. And I’m not the only one bewitched by the voices and action from the past.
Between May and October on Saturdays and Sundays only (from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.), volunteers who probably know more and love this place even more than I, can enlighten the curious-minded about the restored mill’s history.
Volunteers Russ Liptow and Don Sternquist recently gave a few others and me a tour of the mill itself. The air smelled of earth, of dirt; this only enhanced the feeling of traveling back in time.
Both men have volunteered for about three years apiece, giving tours on how the gristmill used to work. They walked and talked throughout the mill’s interiors, pointing out how an ancient-looking metal piece worked in conjunction with the entire milling operation, for example.
“I’m retired and I like to be sociable,” remarked Sternquist. “This [place] is hands-on living history.”
According to the men, the mill, owned by the Beckman family, operated from 1865 until the 1950s. As I wandered into the mill, past the cooperage and into the gift shop, I learned a lot from reading various little plaques scattered throughout the restored historical buildings.
As I wandered around the front portion of the vast 50-odd acres of property, I read that the mill had remained in the Beckman family for several generations, running as a commercial operation from 1882 to 1954. Additionally, it is stated the mill became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
As I spoke with the two volunteers after the tour, they both commented on the natural beauties that surround the mill, including a wonderfully quaint wooden bridge. One of them explained how visitors come from all around to take in the scenic land and waterscapes, and reserve space for special events. The place is hopping especially during graduation and with wedding ceremonies in the summer.
Scenic, memorable destination
Earlier this year, a couple of my friends came to visit from Indiana. They became instantly fascinated with cheese curds and beer. And while I am proud of this delicious part of Wisconsin culture, I thought that I ought to show off Beckman Mill.
We arrived on a weekday, and we enjoyed having the place to ourselves. The three of us joyfully ambled around and my male friend gazed with appreciation at different tools and mechanisms and shared his hypotheses about how the mill had functioned.
I puffed up with a gush of renewed pride as my friends admired the mill and its surroundings. Collectively, they must’ve taken over a few dozen pictures, often posing with broad smiles beneath the bright, sunny sky. A sense of appreciation washed over me again as we all wandered around.
Months later, after my conversation with the volunteers at the mill, I happened to see a tiny, intimate gathering of people, all dressed to the nines beneath the blazing sun in front of the wooden bridge, where a bride and groom held hands before their preacher.
I thought about how this wedding is going to be history someday for the couple as they embark on their future together. Likewise, the mill used to be a social gathering (according to a plaque) for the past, and I found it touching that this lovely place still touches the hearts of all its visitors.
Located 6 miles West of Beloit, WI
11600 So. County Rd. H
Hours: Open every Sat. and Sun. 1-4 p.m.
May thru October
Grinding will be on the first Sat. of every month and on special events.