Built in 1843, Potter's Mill has become a cultural landmark along the Grant Wood Scenic byway, a National Historic Registry site, and oldest gristmill in the state of Iowa.
Before "The Mill rose to fame, it was just the brain child of New Lebanon, Il native Captain Elgridge Gerry Potter.
Potter first came to the Bellevue area in search of a location for a flour mill. In 1843 Potter and local millwright John Gammel built "The Mill" on the banks of Mill Creek, just off the mighty Mississippi River. "The Mill", cost about $40,000 in total to build at the time to build. The foundation of the building and the eleven-foot thick dam were constructed from limestone quarried from the bluffs south across the creek, now Bellevue State Park. Locally sourced Handhewn walnut and oak beams up to 45 feet long and 15 inches wide framed the building. The structure was first powered by an overshot waterwheel along the south side of the building. The waterwheel was 20 feet in diameter, with bucket 12 feet wide. It was capable of generating 100 horsepower.
By 1845 "The Mill" was operational. Potter sourced wheat from farmers in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, then sold the produced flour to customers in major cities throughout the MidWest and Eastern United States.
The dam was extended in 1869 to accommodate six new turbines, which allowed for year round flour milling. The turbines were in the basement of "The Mill" and drew water under the winter ice, storing enough water for late summer drought, and avoiding the frequent loss of waterwheels during spring flooding. The turbines powered six millstone to grind the flour. These stones ran almost continuously at peak production levels. All of the stones used in "The Mill" were French buhr stones, which were favored by millers because they didn't have to be redressed as often as the softer native stones. French stones were always cut into pieces for shipment across the ocean. They would be reassembled on site and held together with a red hot steel band that would contract and hold the pieces together.
In 1871, Potter sold "The Mill" to Kilborn and Co., who operated the structure for 10 years.
Gradually the millstone technology was replaced by 12 roller mills between 1870 and the mid 1880s.
A flash flood damaged the building on May 24, 1896. Fourteen inches of rain fell in 12 hours, creating a flash flood on Big Mill Creek, which destroyed another dam upstream from "The Mill." The spillway was not repaired after the flood but was instead replaced by a 35 horsepower Atlas steam engine.
Production capacity fell to only 50 barrels of flour per day after the installation of the steam engine. Eventually this technology was replaced by electricity. After 38 years in the hands of the Reiling family, "The Mill" was sold.
Several different parties owned and operated the property until it was purchased by the Dyas family in 1931. In its final years of production, the structure ground corn on the cob into steer feed. The Dyas family continued to operate "The Mill" until its final year of production in 1969, after 126 years of service.
"The Mill" was put up for sale at auction in 1980 and purchased by Dr. Daryll and Carolyn Eggers. Other potential buyers of the building wanted to tear it down for lumber sales but the Eggers family had plans to restore the dilapidated building, which had sat vacant for 11 years. Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, plus countless hours of care and detail, the Eggers opened Potter's Mill as a restaurant and bed and breakfast, and restored this historic landmark to its pristine condition today. "The Mill" was added to The National Historic Registry in 1984. Visitors flocked from all 50 states and internationally to stay and dine in one of the largest enacted gristmill in the MidWest and became a region destination along the Great River Road.
After major flooding on the Mississippi River in 1993, tourism traffic slowed and "The Mill" closed its doors at the end of the year. The building has been home to a variety of unsuccessful businesses and sale attempts until most recently in 2014.
In August of 2014 Mark and Rachel Herman bought and reopened "The Mill" as Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ at Potter's Mill and The Inn at Potter's Mill.
Inspired by their love of blues, jazz and all things food, the Hermans have revived the icon structure with a live music venue, southern hospitality, and big appetites. Here's to many more years of documenting one the most beautiful, beloved, and versatile historic building in Eastern Iowa.