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Couple seeks help saving 1872 water mill

Staff writer

Inspired by the story of Steamboat Arabia, a recovered steamboat that plied the waters of the Missouri River many years ago, Daryl and Pat Enos are planning a project to preserve the Excelsior Water Mill that sits on their home place two miles south of Marion.

About four months ago, they became sole owners of the mill and adjacent elevator and decided they wanted to do something with it.

“Restore is too strong a word,” Pat Enos said. “We can’t restore it to its original working condition, but we can preserve it.”

“There aren’t many of these mills left,” Daryl said. “It won’t run, but we thought why not make it so people can come and see it.”

The couple will raffle a 5-ft. lawn glider made from recycled plastic bottles to raise money to jumpstart the project. Tickets will be $10 and on sale in early October with the drawing before Christmas.

They didn’t want to put the site on the National Register of Historic Places because that would restrict them on what they could do with the building. They also didn’t like the idea of applying for a grant because grants are funded by taxpayer dollars.

“Some people think we’re dumb, but I don’t think taxpayer dollars should be going to this kind of thing,” Daryl said.

The 1872 concrete building sits along the original channel of the South Cottonwood River and was operated by a water wheel until 1918, when a big dredging project to straighten the river diverted the river channel farther west. After that, a diesel engine was installed and used to run the equipment. The flour it produced was labeled Excelsior.

The original milling equipment remains inside, reaching all the way up into the dormer at the top of the building.

After the money is collected, the first step will be to put a new roof on the building and install windows.

The wood structure on the west side of the concrete mill will be torn off, rotted floors will be replaced, and the stone foundation will be repaired.

Looking back

Daryl Enos was a boy in 1965, when his parents, Eugene and Phyllis Enos, moved to a house adjacent to the mill property. It had been built in 1871 for the mill owner. The mill was no longer in operation, but the owner, A.T. Ehrlich, and his wife lived in another house built in 1921 north of the mill.

Daryl became friends with Ehrlich’s grandson, who came to visit two weeks every summer. They spent time roaming around and inside the mill and fishing from the wheel platform.

The mill complex was sold after Ehrlich died in 1974, and Daryl’s parents later bought it. They moved into the Ehrlich house and eventually put the house and mill into an Excelsior Mill estate.

Meanwhile, Daryl grew up, graduated from Marion High School in 1973, and went on to become an industrial arts teacher for almost 24 years. He and his wife, Pat, moved back to Marion in 2000 and bought the house adjacent to the mill, where they live today.

The mill site was neglected and overgrown. The couple worked to clear the ground of weeds, trees, and debris.

After Daryl’s father died in 2015, his two sisters weren’t interested in retaining the mill property, so Daryl and Pat bought them out.

If they are successful in raising money, they will do more fundraising to redo the interior and make it accessible. The elevator also will be redone and the scale house rebuilt. Some wall replacement and foundation work also will be done.

Daryl said he learned that a small cottage originally sat on the grounds and was used for overnight stays by farmers who brought their grain from a distance. His dream is to someday build a cabin in the same location.

The Enoses don’t plan to use their own labor or profits from their business to finance the restoration. They are counting on the public’s interest in preserving the property and their willingness to buy raffle tickets to support it. The work will be offered to local builders.

Visitors are welcome to see the mill but it is on private property, Daryl said, so they are asked to call before they come. The number to call is (620) 382-8495.

Last modified Sept. 27, 2018

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