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Richfield Historical Society’s 14th annual thresheree

Sept. 13, 2012 | 0 comments


The 14th annual Richfield Historical Society’s 14th annual thresheree on Sept. 15-16 at the Richfield Historical Park will feature steam power, threshing demonstrations, and an array of antique farm-related collections.

Visitors will also have an opportunity to tour the centerpiece of the park, the 1871 Messer/Mayer Grist Mill that has been restored by members who describe the project as work in progress.

The Mill and the original family house on the property were listed on the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places in 2006 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. These historic buildings became a Washington County Landmark in 2009.

With the restoration of these buildings the non-profit Richfield Historical Society began its venture of creating a living museum that now includes log buildings from the time of the early settlers and continues through life on the saw and grist mill homestead and then on to the era of cash cropping and dairy farming.


This ambitious project began as a dream of neighboring farmer Herb Lofy who cropped the land around the old grist mill.

He admits today he never thought he’d get so involved in preserving history. He was more interested in caring for his farm and the registered Holstein cattle he milked there.

He even considered, at one point, accepting a developer’s offer to purchase his farm and using the proceeds to buy a larger farm in neighboring Dodge County where be felt there would be more potential to continue farming.

It was his wife, Sharon, who questioned whether he was sure he really wanted to abandon the farm his family had established a couple of generations ago.

The family decided to stay and as he got a little older he began to think more about his ancestors and the work they went through to clear the land and build the structures needed for farming.

He also got to thinking more about the old mill next to the creek that wound through his farm. It was in shambles but he started thinking that this was a rare treasure that might be worth restoring.

More than 100,000 gristmills such as this once dotted America’s countryside during the mid 1800s when farmers needed access to a mill within a day’s travel by horse-drawn wagon. The mill was a social center and a necessary business for the farmers in the area.

While Lofy worked the fields around the mill he began to dream about what it would take to restore it. He spoke with a neighbor who had a keen interest in history and the two came up with ideas for making their dream reality.

In 1996, when the Township of Richfield celebrated its sesquicentennial, Lofy was one of many farmers interviewed for the commemorative book that was put together for the celebration. He says that got others thinking about the town’s rich farming history and there was talk about forming a historical society to continue exploration of the area’s farming heritage.

That’s when Herb began to realize the property around the mill would be a great location for a historical park. The town agreed and in 1997 they contacted the property owner in Milwaukee and bought the farm.


Once the property was in the hands of the township Herb and others in the area began to explore the old mill and found a lot of the original equipment was still in the building. He says, "If we had waited much longer to do something with this mill it would have been deteriorated to the point we could not have saved it."

Volunteers immediately went to work to make repairs and refurbish the mill. They also restored the Miller’s house, constructed earlier than the mill in the 1860s. More recently they restored the adjacent dairy barn on the site.

Herb says the township puts money into the budget each year for restoration projects and they have received many private donations. The annual thresheree is a major fund-raiser.

The thresheree began on the Lofy farm across the road from the mill in 1988. As volunteers began to develop the park they cleared paths that made it possible to host the thresheree on the park grounds.

Since they were cramped for space, however, visitors to the show needed to park at a nearby church and the Historical society bussed them to the show.

Then the town, together with the Department of Natural Resources, purchased a farm adjoining the park. This conservancy includes wooded land, marshes and some workable farm land.

Lofy still raises crops on the land but plans his crops to accommodate the show.

The additional land includes horse trails that are open year around and has made it possible to have on-site parking and room to expand the show beyond what visitors saw at the original thresherees.

The original historical park is now home to other structures that were added as a way to preserve the area history.

Included is a log house that once stood on a nearby farm. It was disassembled piece by piece and moved to the Pioneer Homestead area of the park. The house is furnished with artifacts representative of the era in which log houses existed.

A log barn that had been used to shelter animals was moved on to the property. A granary was moved in and reconstructed by volunteers in 2003 who had an old-fashioned barn-raising. They reconstructed the building by hand with no power equipment. They also added a cedar shingle roof.

A sugar shack was constructed as a project of an Eagle Scout in the area. The timber-framed shack with a cedar shingle roof has a large cupola on the roof that opens to ventilate the shack during the evaporating process.

Each year the Historical Society hosts a maple syruping event so visitors can learn more about the process first hand.

A large bank barn, a restored outhouse, and a restored smoke house are also a part of the living-history park.

Raising funds

for restoration

The club is now raising funds to restore the deteriorating foundation of the mill. While volunteers have provided the labor for many of the projects on the farm, this ambitious project requires the help of professionals who specialize in this type of work.

Lofy says they believe it is a worthwhile effort, however, and it is the next step in their ultimate goal of getting the mill up and working as it did in its heyday.

The large 30-by-40 timber frame structure has three floors and a basement. It was built between 1871-73 by Andrew Messer whose ancestors have contributed to its restoration and come back each year to the thresheree for a family-reunion of sorts.

The original equipment on all three floors and the basement were still intact when the organization acquired the mill. The power to run the mill came from the water turbine that is deep in the basement water chase. It produced 25hp and ran at 425rpm.

The club recently acquired a Superior gas engine for alternative power as the mill originally had for use during times of low water levels.

Admission to the show on Sept. 15-16 is $5 for adults and children 12 and under are free. There will be a pancake breakfast on Saturday and Sunday from 9-11 a.m. The show runs from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

The parking entrance to the park is on Highway 164, one-half mile north of Highway 167.

To learn more about the show and the projects, visit www.richfieldhistoricalsociety.org.


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