Being retired English teachers, Jill and I are always interested in education, schools, and history. So, we were naturally attracted to the Muscatine County one room school house called Melpine School.
It's located on Wild Cat Den Road off of highway 22 between Fairport and Montpelier, Iowa at the Wild Cat Den State Park.
We were quite fortunate because we were there on a Friday in May, and the school is open on Sunday afternoons from 1:00 pm until 5 pm starting in June. However, it was toward the end of the Iowa school year, and lots of grade school children from the area were on field trips to see the school and the Grist Mill.
As we walked up to the school, a nice woman asked if she could help us. She had just completed a tour with children. We told her that we were retired teachers from Illinois. She, too, is a retired teacher who gives tours as a volunteer. She kindly said that she would love to give us a guided tour, which she did. Ironically, she showed us a picture of her as a child in this very schoolroom. Naturally, I had to take a photograph of her beside the picture.
They have gathered wonderful memorabilia and have displayed them beautifully. They have various size school desks, a victrola, old school books, period lunch buckets, school records, teacher contracts, souvenir booklets, and lots of old photographs. There is a girl's entrance and a boy's entrance with separate coat closets.
We just loved this tour, the information, our tour guide, the setting in Wild Cat Den State Park, and the lovely 70 degree weather.
After an "interesting" ride on back roads, we finally arrivedat Pine Creek Grist Mill. It was toward the end of the school year; thus, lots of classes of grade school children were on field trips here. We "tagged" along and listed to the tour guides.
THE PINE CREEK GRIST MILL IS IOWA"S OLDEST, OPERATIONAL MILL
The mill was built on Pine Creek by Benjamin Nye in 1848 [it was the third mill he had built on this location because he kept outgrowing them]. It was built of native lumber sawn at Nye's sawmill nearby. It cost about $10,000.00 to build.
They ground coarse wheat flour that was packed in barrels and shipped down the Mississippi River by steamboat. Pine Creek is one mile away from the River. After the Civil War, this practice stopped. However, settlers around Muscatine continued to use the mill for flour supplies.
In 1927, the state of Iowa purchased the mill for less than $9,000.00. Fortunately, most of the machinery within the mill was left intact. At that time, it became part of Wildcat Den State Park.
They have some of the original machinery from the 1848 mill as well as newer machinery from 1927 that was added to increase production.
In 1996, The Friends of Pine Creek Grist Mill became organized with the mission of restoring the mill to operational format and in preserving the heritage of the mill. With the help of the Dept of Natural Resources, the State Historical Society, and the community, the mill's foundation has been stabilized, the structure and dam have been repaired, and the machinery is now in working order.
Grist Mill is Open:
May through October
Wednesday through Sunday
1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
No admission is charged
Donations are welcomed
The reason we ended up in Wildcat Den State Park was because we wanted to see the Pine Creek Grist Mill.
However, the park itself is worth a visit. It encompasses over 400 acres along the Pine Creek drainage in Muscatine County. It has a variety of picnic areas, and two open shelters are available [need to be reserved for a fee through the park manager].
From the literature we received, I discovered that, "A portion of the park was donated to the state by the Brandt sisters who actually lived there at one time. A bronze tablet dedicated to their memory has been placed in sandstone in a lovely setting where centuries-old pine trees line 75-foot cliffs."
It also has a campground with 28 campsites and "non-modern rest room facilities.
Wildlife that you might encounter are deer, woodpeckers, eagles, owls, snakes, and small rodents.
However, one of the best features of Wildcat Den State Park is its trail system. There are awesome bluffs and rock outcroppings. Some of its sites include: Steamboat Rock, Devil's Punch Bowl, and Fat Man's Squeeze.
Of course, the focal point of the park is the Pine Creek Grist Mill and the Melpine Schoolhouse [see separate tips for each].
This is a park that combines natural beauty, preservation of historical structures, camping, picnic areas, and extraordinary trails.