NELIGH — Significant changes are expected for the historic site of Neligh Mill, which sits on the banks of the River Elkhorn.
On Friday, History Nebraska board members voted to demolish the two elevators and warehouse attached to the factory — unless there’s a way to save an elevator to use for some purpose. education and interpretation.
John D. Neligh began construction of the mill in 1872. Financial difficulties forced it to sell to William Gallaway and William Lambert, who completed the project. Over the next few years, improvements were made, including the addition of a wheat elevator built in 1886 and another corn elevator built in 1899.
When the mill closed in the 1960s, the owners left the mill machinery intact. Today, it tells the story of flour milling in the 19th century. But for the most part, the elevators were only used to store items belonging to History Nebraska, which now owns and operates the factory, elevator, and grounds. The entire complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now the elevators need about $170,000 in repairs, which is why History Nebraska staff recently held a town hall in Neligh to gather feedback from citizens on their future.
Four scenarios were presented, said Jill Dolberg, deputy state historic preservation officer, including doing nothing; repair them; make adaptive reuse or demolish them.
At the town hall meeting, “most people wanted an interpretation of the elevators and how they work,” she said.
These same scenarios were presented to the History Nebraska board of directors on Friday at its meeting in Neligh, which resulted in a lively discussion and several alternative suggestions.
Administrator Bob Wickersham of Harrison suggested donating the entire site to the town of Neligh, along with a financial contribution to help pay for upkeep.
This idea was rejected by Trevor Jones, CEO of History Nebraska.
“Neligh is important to us,” Jones said. “We have big plans.”
These plans include using the mill for STEM education – in-person and virtually.
The mill is “all about the electricity, the gears…and all that cool stuff,” Jones said. “But elevators need more interpretation.”
As it stands, the elevators are unusable as they are infested with bats, leading some council members to support the idea of demolition.
“The Mill is at the heart of it all,” said David Levy of Omaha, chairman of the board. “These elevators are unsafe…and full of bats. I don’t like the idea (of demolition), but historic preservation isn’t about putting shellac on a building.”
But not everyone was convinced.
Boyd Pederson of Clearwater, a member of the public, suggested looking for a corporate sponsor – such as one of the companies that bought flour milled from the mill – who could provide financial support to make the elevators usable.
“Most big companies have invested money in marketing,” said Tyler Vacha, director of the History Nebraska Foundation. “A small mill in Nebraska might be a tough sell.”
In the end, the suggestion to investigate the possibility of saving the corn elevator and demolishing the corn elevator and warehouse received the most success.
“It’s a viable alternative,” said Joe Hartz, the mayor of Neligh. There should be a way to “open the side up to examine it and see how it works”.
After investigating the possibility of saving and repurposing the elevator, staff will report back to council.