Rising Star Mill
The Nelsonville Mill is one of the oldest mills in this part of the state and the last of its kind in Portage County. On September 10, 1855, Jerome Nelson purchased land and water rights from Anna and Charles Stoltenberg on which to "construct and maintain a mill dam." Nelson, for whom Nelsonville is named, built the dam and sawmill in 1855. The Mill was built in 1868 upon his return from serving in the Civil War. The Mill was operated as a business until 1984. Of particular interest is the Woodward Governor turbine, which was ordered in 1917 for the Jackson Milling Company.
An advertisement in the Pinery of 1870 refers to the “Rising Star Flouring Mill, Jerome Nelson, proprietor.., all work done. ..warranted to give satisfaction.” The advertisement also indicated that he was prepared to do custom grinding or ‘exchange with farmer.” Most common was the barter agreement, whereby a farmer with wheat or rye gave a percentage of grain to be ground to the miller in exchange for grinding the balance. Nelson produced various kinds of flour (rye, whole wheat, cracked wheat and white) under the brand names of Gold Coin, Legal Tender, and Climax.
In 1883 Jerome went to Milwaukee to purchase metal rollers to replace the original millstones. It was during this time period that Nelson purchased another flour mill, four miles down the Tomorrow River. This mill was named the Eclipse Mill and was run by John Loberg, Jerome and Marilla’s only son-in-law. It was abandoned in 1942 and razed in 1954.
In 1886 the May Stevens Point Journal reported that “Jerome was overhauling the Mill, putting in new centrifugal reels, dust collectors, aspirators and other machines of the most approved design.” In 1893 Nelson arranged to have the dam on the pond raised another three feet, i.e., to nine feet, which suggests that he needed more power either for the saw mill or flour mill or both. It was during these years that the north and south wing additions were built. After Jerome s death in 1897, his son-in-law, John Loberg, leased the Rising Star Mill to Matthias Wick of Stevens Point, and then in 1898, B.E. Dwinell of Amherst leased the building.
Two years later Dwinell and Loberg changed mills. The March 14, 1890, the Portage County Gazette reported that Dwinell had decided to buy the lower mill, 41 acres of land, and two houses for $8,000. Loberg then ran the Rising Star Mill until the spring of 1916, when he sold the business to the Jackson Milling Company of Stevens Point for $6,000.
Jackson improved the machinery and confined its operation to grinding only feed, not flour. Amherst Electric Company took over the mill in 1924, and a generating plant was started to provide electricity to the village. Many homes were soon wired and had their first lights. The power was not always consistent. When lights would flicker, a common saying was “a carp must be going over the dam.”
Wisconsin Power and Light took over the mill in 1929. In 1936 they closed down the Nelsonville Mill because it was unable to produce enough electricity and was too costly. A federal tax was being levied and small power plants were unable to function profitably.
The Mill was sold to Ben Cycosh, who operated the mill for only 6 months until 1946 when John Koziczkowski purchased it.
The Department of Natural Resources purchased the land and the mill in 1984 in order to gain control of the dam. The building was sold to the Portage County Historical Society in January of 1985. The Dept. of Natural Resources removed the spillway in 1988 to restore almost a mile of the Tomorrow River to a Class A trout stream.
The Mill hosts an annual art show & sale as well as several concerts and an open house each year (see schedule). All profits generated are applied to the restoration and maintenance of the Rising Star Mill. The Mill is also available to rent for meetings and other activities.