Beckman Mill History
The Beckman Mill was originally called “Howe’s Mill” and later “Newark Mills”. It was built in 1868 on the east bank of Coon Creek in Rock County’s Newark Township. It is approximately six miles west of Beloit, WI and about one-half mile north of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line.
Early records and oral histories indicate that a distillery preceded the mill. It was built in 1845 by Charles F. H. Goodhue Jr. of Beloit and was very successful until it was destroyed by fire in 1853. Fifteen years later a grist mill was constructed on the site of the distillery by millwright William Howe. Howe operated the mill himself for several years before selling it to Louis Hyde and Elias Teall.
In 1882 it was acquired by William T. Kelley, a neighboring farmer. Later that year, Kelley deeded it to Catherine Beckmann, wife of Carl Ferdinand August Beckmann. Beckmann was previously a miller at Juda and at Hanover, both in southern Wisconsin. August, or “Gus” as he was called, had immigrated to the United States in the late 1850s.
For the name of his “new” mill, August chose “Newark Mills” which became not only a place to have grain ground but also an ideal gathering place for its customers. Those waiting their turn enjoyed the opportunity to “shoot the breeze” with their neighbors or even catch some fish in the pond. Frequently, they would bring their children who could opt for wading, frog catching, fishing or swimming.
From 1890-1892, there was a very practical reason for stopping by the mill since it was the Newark Post Office with August’s son Henry as postmaster. Visitors today will notice the replicated 1890s letter box and a copy of Henry’s Postmaster’s Certificate hanging on the wall.
Following the passing of their father in 1908, Charles (Charlie) and Henry (Hank) took over the operation of the mill. At that time they bought out their brother-in-law, Herman Grünke, who had been a partner with August since 1893. Together, using the name “Beckman Brothers”, they ran the mill during the teens, twenties, and thirties shelling and grinding corn and producing buckwheat flour. Packaged in 5, 10, and 20 lb. paper bags identified as “Strictly Pure Fresh Ground Buckwheat Flour”, the product was sold at the mill, to merchants in nearby towns and door to door in area communities.
In the early 1920s, realizing that the mill and dam were showing their age, Charlie and Henry, with the help of their neighbors, embarked on a major improvement project. It involved the replacement of the wooden dam with a concrete one and a major renovation of the mill. Included were new siding, windows, roofing and a drive-through for protection from the elements. For storage and to house an auxiliary power source, additions were built on the mill’s south side.
Upon the death of his brother Henry in 1939, Charlie continued to operate the mill on his own until the mid 1950s with a two-year hiatus during WW2 when he was employed at Fairbanks-Morse in Beloit. In the late 1950s a new roof was installed which served to preserve the structure. Around that time the mill was rented to a neighboring farmer for the storage of baled hay.
In 1977 the mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and one year later in 1978, the Beckman family sold it and their 10-acre property to Rock County. The county secured the building but was unable financially to begin a restoration. In 1990, Friends of Beckman Mill, Inc. was formed and shortly thereafter volunteers from that organization began the restoration.
Beckman Mill Timeline
1834 Michigan Territory surveyed by U. S. Government.
1844 Charles F. H. Goodhue Jr. purchases land and builds a combined grist mill and distillery.
1848 Cooperage building constructed for making barrels.
1853 Goodhue distillery/mill destroyed by fire.
1868 William Howe purchases Goodhue property and builds a new grist mill.
1872 Mill acquired by Louis Hyde and Elias Teall.
1881 Mill purchased by William T. Kelley.
1882 Mill purchased from Kelley by Catherine Beckmann, wife of miller August Beckmann.
1890-92 Mill serves as Newark Post Office with August’s son Henry Beckmann as postmaster.
1893 Herman Rudolph Grünke, August Beckmann’s son-in-law, becomes partner in mill.
1908 August Beckmann dies.
1909 Mill operation taken over by Charles and Henry Beckman who buy out the Grünke interest.
1924 New concrete dam replaces early wooden one.
1925 Mill renovated. Drive-though and side rooms added.
1939 Henry Beckman dies. Charles continues as miller.
1954 Milling business ceases.
1966 Charles Beckman dies.
1977 Mill placed on National Register of Historic Places.
1978 Beckman Mill and property sold to Rock County.
1984 Beloit Izaak Walton League funds Feasibility Study.
1990 Friends of Beckman Mill, Inc. formed.
1991 Mill stabilization and restoration begins.
1991 Mill on Wisconsin’s “10 Most Endangered Historic Properties” list.
1995 Restoration and Site Development Plan created.
1996 Park nature trail laid out.
1997 FBM wins American Association for Local History Award.
1998 Mill restoration completed and tours begin.
1998 FBM hosts Society for the Preservation of Old Mills convention.
2000 Paved parking lot completed.
2001 New dam completed.
2002 Fish passage completed.
2003 Construction of Visitors Center begins.
2004 Cooperage (Beckman home) project completed.
2005 Friends of Beckman Mill website established.
2006 Visitor Center completed.
2006 Activities Coordinator hired.
2007 1/12 scale model of the Beckman Family’s home on display in cooperage.
2009 Storage barn constructed.
2009 Park lighting upgraded.
2010 Park benches added.
2011 Nature Trail Boardwalk added.