Beer, batts and bikes

I realize those items may be listed in the wrong order as this story is about Midwest woolen mills but there is a happy association between local fiber (in the sheep variety), local fiber (in the beverage variety) and local bike trails.  Each of the six mills featured in this story are a part of the rich woolen mill history in the Midwest and are paired with a list of local craft breweries and bike trails.

As the vast prairies and forests were settled by pioneers, history reports over 800 Midwest woolen mills in 1886. Pioneers needed cloth, especially in the winter, and it was expensive to ship cloth from back East, so for a short time through the 1800’s into the early 1900’s it was common for a local mill to provide fabric and batting to its trade area. Perched on fast running creeks and rivers, the water flow powered the great looms.

Unfortunately, as quickly as woolen mills came into business, most went out of business as the population grew and shifted and manufacturing consolidation became commonplace and by 1920 only 80 mills remained. Whether the mill has been operating since the 1850’s or opened its doors a few years ago, it’s fun to see the huge old machines carding batts or making roving into yarn. This short list takes us across five states and offers six summer road trip ideas.

So where does the beer and biking come in? Read on…

Our first stop is Lawson, Missouri at the Watkins Mill State Historic Site.

watkins millWatkins Woolen Mill, Lawson, MO

Located northeast of Kansas City, Missouri in Lawson, the historic site is home to Bethany Farm and the Watkins Woolen Mill. Apprenticed in a Kentucky woolen mill, Waltus Watkins moved to the Missouri territory with his family in 1839. He set about building a home for his large family and completed the mill in in 1860. The mill first produced wool batts but soon ramped up to full production of fabric within the year. After all, this was during the Civil War. The historic site includes the large brick home, outbuildings and bike tours. Walking tours are available. There is a local bike/walk trail on the grounds of the historic site and many additional bike trails through the Missouri State Parks website. On June 13, 2015, the Watkins Mill Association is sponsoring a ‘Get Outdoors 5K Day’! The Flickr slideshow is a treat.

Since the mill isn’t far from KC, craft breweries are only about 45 minutes away. In Weston, west of the woolen mill, the Weston Brewing Company has been in the business since 1842.

Our next stop is the Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa.

amana-woolen-mill-19-lghtbxAmana Woolen Mill

I’ve written about Amana before, specifically their quilting heritage, and continue to find their story interesting as they reinvent themselves for today’s market. Recently the Woolen Mill hosted a sheep and wool festival. It’s a great way to continue to share the wonderful legacy of wool and how much it has been a part of the Amana story. I also surveyed the wide assortment of new class and workshop offerings throughout 2015. The mill is working with community partners and is clearly thinking about how they can share the Amana heritage and expertise with today’s makers. On the liquid fiber side of things, Millstream Brewing has been around since 1985 so they aren’t new to the craft beer world. But, hey, this is great German bier!  On July 11 – 12, 2015 Millstream is sponsoring Tour de Brew. It’s part of the Hike and Bike weekend in and around the Colonies. If you’d prefer a shorter loop you can hop on your bike for a 4-mile junket from Main Amana to Middle Amana which sweeps down by pretty Lily Lake, click here.

On, Wisconsin!

5770KW_machine patentCedarburg Woolen Carding Mill

The Cedarburg Woolen Carding Mill may not be new to my readers because the woolen mill is a founding member of the Cedarburg Spur Fiber Arts Trail. Cedarburg Spur Fiber Arts Trail The Cedarburg Woolen Mill began processing wool in 1864. That thread continues today at the Mill on the corner of Washington and Columbia. You can see wool processed much as it was over 100 years ago on vintage machinery patented in 1860. (It’s soooo quiet!) Cedarburg has such a wonderful history of mills along Cedar Creek and the Milwaukee River.  Downtown Cedarburg is filled with historic stone buildings, charm and of course other members who are a part of the Cedarburg Spur Fiber Arts Trail! Call ahead to contact Kay and set up time for a tour. Cedarburg Woolen Mill There are a couple of places for craft beer in Cedarburg, two wineries for that matter and wonderful shopping. Also, check out the Ozaukee County Interurban Bike and Hike Trail. It’s 30 miles, paved and runs from one end of the county to the other.

Let’s head to Michigan’s mitten.

maxresdefaultFrankenmuth Woolen Mill

The woolen mill and local brewery have deep roots in Frankenmuth society. The Frankenmuth Woolen Mill has been making wool bedding since 1894 and Frankenmuth Brewery has been serving since 1862. Considered Michigan’s ‘Little Bavaria’, the buildings around town have a distinct Tyrolean charm. Festivals keep things hopping all summer long. Here are some bike and hike trails via TrailLink and Saginaw County–if the landscape looks like Bavaria, the trails will have beautiful scenery.

Now back to southern Minnesota.

FM6-650x440Faribault Woolen Mill

faribault 150The Faribault Mill is the biggest of the six mills in this story. It has a long and wonderful history beginning in 1865 in the southern Minnesota city by the same name. Recently, the mill was purchased by a Minnesota family who dusted the place off, completely overhauled the mill and began a successful re-branding process. Or, I should say, put Faribault mill back into its rightful place as one of the best mills in America. Know for blankets, the mill made history by supplying the Army and Navy with 250,000 blankets during two World Wars and at one time made about half the blankets in America. Tours are available on Thursdays. There are wonderful bike and hike trails in and around Faribault, and just this summer F-Town Beer Company opened its brewhouse and taproom!

From Pine to Prairie in northern Minnesota.

4438NWMNorthern Woolen Mill

Just a couple of years ago, Stephanie Anderson returned to her hometown of Fosston, Minnesota and started a woolen mill. The BIG DIFFERENCE between Northern Woolen Mill and the others in this story is that Northern makes yarn, roving and processes small batches of fiber from local producers, big and small. Steph would love to give you a tour, sign you up for a class and include you as a part of the fiber community. Back down in the local big city of Bemidji, we’ll find craft beer maker Bemidji Brewing and a healthy mix of hike and bike trails. The northern trailhead of the 115-mile Paul Bunyan Trail is located in Lake Bemidji State Park along with a 17-mile loop in Lake Bemidji State Park and an in-town wellness walk with three loops.  Coming up on June 20, 2015 Bike Bemidji is sponsoring Loop the Lake Festival. A great way to spend a Saturday in June!

Have a great time!