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Mill pond was half-mile wide

Q: Are there any existing photos of Bloomer's Mill or Oehler's Mill, both of which once operated in the Coulee Region? Also, how large were the ponds or lakes behind the mills?

A: There are some photos at the La Crosse Public Library Archives as well as the Special Collections Department at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's Murphy Library.

From a 1906 plat book, the staff at the public library archives determined the length of the Oehler pond to be about one-half mile and almost an eighth of a mile wide at its widest point. It was tear-drop shaped. The mill is still standing today just east of Hwy. MM. According to Harry J. Hirshheimer in the article "Manufacturing in La Crosse, 1853-1880," the mill was constructed in 1857 as a sawmill then switched to grist and flour in 1858. The stone mill that is still standing was built in 1862.

In "Southern La Crosse County, Wisconsin: Historic/

Architectural Survey Circa 1845 to 1950" by principal investigator Barbara M. Kooiman, the tax assessment for Valentine Oehler's land in 1867 was $4,250 compared with $1,950 in 1930. The location was excellent for a mill, as the dam could raise the water level 40 feet.

The mill dam and cave commonly known as Oehler's Cave were east of the farmstead. North of the cave is an area of land that was used as a park. The Oehler family built a pavilion, tourist park, dam and grist mill. Spring water was piped into the park so visitors could enjoy the beauty of the cave and the rock formations. According to a 2002 Tribune article, the mill was placed on the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation's "2002 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties."

Again, according to Harry J. Hirshheimer in the article "Manufacturing in La Crosse, 1853-1880," the Bloomer (or Blumer) Mill was constructed in 1870. This mill burned before 1900. The archives staff could not determine how large its pond was.

In cooperation with the La Crosse Public Library, the Tribune invites readers to call or e-mail questions of local interest. We'll try to find the answers and publish them. The phone number for Ask the Trib is (608) 791-8450. Send questions by e-mail to news@lacrossetribune.com.

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