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Kenmare's Danish Mill unique in the U.S...

Dutch windmills in the United States are very common and are found in a lot of places. Danish mills are just the opposite, they’re very rare.

1/29/19 (Tue)


Kenmare's identity... A crowd of people gather around Kenmare's Danish Mill in this 2002 file photo. The mill is a rarity in the United States with only two others like it in the nation that have direct Danish connections. 

By Marvin Baker

Dutch windmills in the United States are very common and are found in a lot of places. Danish mills are just the opposite, they’re very rare.

In fact, to the best of our knowledge, there are only three Danish mills in the United States and one of them is in the Downtown Square in Kenmare.

The Kenmare mill, which was nearly destroyed by fire Jan. 6, was built here in North Dakota in 1902 by Christian Jensen, a Danish immigrant who came to the United States in 1890 and operated the mill 11 miles north of Kenmare for 13 years.

Although the mill is no longer operational, most of the original structure remains intact. Parts of the blades were rebuilt after the mill was moved into Kenmare in 1958.

The original purpose of the mill was to grind grain into flour using stones to pulverize the kernels. At its capacity, the mill could grind 200 sacks of grain per day and in times of great demand, it operated around the clock. By 1917, however, the mill had ceased operation and was used as a granary.

Most of the people who live in Kenmare, or those who once lived here, understand the significance of Jensen’s grist mill. It’s one of the oldest structures in the city of Kenmare and the only mill like it in North Dakota.

Since the fire, $1,055 in donations have been turned into city hall from people wanting to help rebuild the mill.

Park Board President Arlen Gartner expects donations will continue to come in because people are so passionate about the landmark that has identified  Kenmare for the past 61 years.

Gartner is still waiting on how much money insurance will pay out for the damage from the fire. He says it probably won’t be enough and is grateful for the donations.

Susan Quinnell with the North Dakota State Historical Society, said it was disturbing to receive news of the fire in the Danish Mill.

“It is heart breaking when beloved old buildings get damaged,” Quinnell said. “Our architect project manager, Tom Linn, (e-mail: tlinn@nd.gov) could provide technical assistance if needed.”

Just to give you an idea of how rare Kenmare’s Danish Mill is, we decided to highlight the two other Danish mills in the United States and a similar grist mill in South Dakota that was actually built by a British man using British plans.

Elk Horn, Iowa

The Danish Mill in Elk Horn was originally built in 1848 in Denmark. Over the years it deteriorated until an American decided in 1976 to bring the mill to Iowa and restore it.

Elk Horn has one of the largest concentrations of Danish descendents in the United States.

It was shipped to Iowa in pieces and since the locals couldn’t find anyone to rebuild it, they found plans in Denmark and some 300 volunteers put it back together piece by piece.

Today, the mill is completely restored and is touted as the only original working Danish Mill in the United States.

The people of Elk Horn have spent several hundred thousand dollars to get it back to its original working condition.

It has won national awards and has been featured on Danish TV. Tours of the mill and the grounds are conducted on a regular basis.

Solvang, Calif.

There is a Danish Mill in this small community in Santa Barbara County, but the adjacent Danish Bakery is what gets all the attention.

Using original recipes from a bakery in Copenhagen, people come from all around to enjoy the ethnic breads and pastries.

After returning from Denmark in the 1940s, a Solvang resident built the first of four Danish mills that would be built in this community that was started by Danish immigrants from the northern Great Plains in 1911 who wanted to spend their winters in warmer climates.

Although the mill is no longer operational, it is used mostly as a landmark so people can easily spot the bakery location.

What happened to the other three mills remains unknown.

Milbank, S.D.

What appears to the nearest mill to Kenmare’s, is located in Milbank, SD, though it isn’t a Danish mill. The grist mill in South Dakota was originally built by a British settler in 1884.

That mill is white, stands 44 feet high and locals put on demonstrations several times a year.

It could grind 45 bushels of wheat per hour and was used until 1910. It was given to the city of Milbank in 1912, moved to a city park in 1928 and then to the Milbank Mutual Insurance property in 1978 for restoration after a major windstorm. It was completely restored in 2009.

Looking similar to the Danish Mill in Kenmare, the Milbank mill has grindstones, drive shafts and wooden drive wheels all in place. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

Kenmare

Kenmare’s mill has seen some changes since Christian Jensen stopped using it to grind grain in 1915.

It remained in its original location until 1958 when it was moved into Kenmare, and set south of the swimming pool. A restoration project was completed in 1961, and in 1965, it was moved into the Downtown Park Square. It has been the center-stage attraction in downtown Kenmare since that time.

According to Quinnell, the mill isn’t eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because it’s been moved.

“When the Danish Mill was moved, it lost a significant part of its story and it suffered the loss of the original location, setting, and other aspects of its eligibility,” she said. “Thus, we don’t consider it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.”

The Jan. 6 fire that nearly destroyed Kenmare’s icon, has been ruled arson, according to the state fire marshal who investigated the fire. The Kenmare Police Department is still looking for clues and if anyone has information, is asked to call them at 701-385-4411.

The park board continues to accept donations. They may be sent to Danish Mill Repair Project, PO Box 816, Kenmare, ND 58746... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!