There isn’t much left of the village, but a mill and a state park give visitors good reason to stop in the area.
The village was initially known as McGilvery’s Landing because a guy named McGilvery ran a ferry from here. The village was named after a town in Vermont, presumably because one of the founders was from there, but no one really knows. La Moille was a bustling place for a time: it had a railroad station, a steamboat landing, and ferry service. Much of the shipping business came from the products of nearby Pickwick Mill. Most of the town’s buildings were sacrificed to progress when the highway was widened.
La Moille was the longtime home of Dan Hafner, a renowned rattlesnake hunter, who was so adept at hunting and handling them, he didn’t bother to wear gloves, boots, a hat, or a shirt when searching for them. He could reach into a lair and pull them out before they struck and was apparently never bitten. Don’t try that at home, kids.
Near La Moille, there was a cave with centuries-old pictographs, representations of animals carved in the sandstone that included a bird with its wings spread 3½ feet by 3 feet. The cave was flooded when the lock and dam system went operational, but it had already been vandalized by that time. There is a replica of the cave at the Winona County History Center.
Wilson and Timothy Davis and George Grant opened the Pickwick Mill (26421 County Highway 7; 507.457.0499) in 1858 and did their job so well that it was a working mill until 1978. Mary Davis chose the name after reading Charles Dickens’ novel Pickwick Papers. The mill is an impressive six stories tall, built from limestone quarried at nearby La Moille. The 20-foot overshot waterwheel produced the power to turn the millstones, helping the mill produce over 100 barrels of flour every day at its peak. A flood in 1980 caused extensive damage; local folks rallied to save it from demolition. There is a 20-minute video describing how the mill worked that is worth watching.
Entertainment and Events
Pickwick Mill Day (2nd Saturday in Sept.; 507.457.3296) celebrates the mill’s history with craft demonstrations, but the highlight is watching the mill’s original grinding operation put back in action.
Heading upriver? Check out Homer.
Heading downriver? Check out Dakota.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011
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