Big Stones Mill



Cyril M. Klimesh, originally from Spillville and now resident of Grants Pass, Oregon, recently announced his intention to donate the Big Stones Mill structure and property located on the Turkey River in Spillville to the Czech Heritage Partnership, a 501( c )( 3) not-for-profit organization.

Klimesh is the author of the definitive history of Spillville, "They Came to this Place - A History of Spillville, Iowa, and Its Czech Setttlers," published in 1983, second edition 1992. During a recent visit to Spillville, Klimesh commented on the importance of the Mill and his hopes for its preservation. "I purchased the property a few years ago and invested in stabilizing the Mill structure, all in the hope that I could help preserve this important part of history. Now I am delighted to hand over this work to the Czech Heritage Partnership, which will carry on with plans for fundraising, restoration, and future use of the property."

The Big Stones Mill began in 1865. Located at the north edge of Spillville on the Turkey River, the Mill started with a 48-inch Leffel Turbine Water Wheel. In 1911, the single turbine was replaced with a 19-inch and a 23-inch turbine, which are still under the structure. Michael F. Klimesh, founder of the Czech Heritage Partnership and a cousin of the Mill’s donor noted: "The Leffel Turbine equipment is a rare survival in a frontier mill structure and also worthy of preservation and display." The Big Stones Mill is also one of Spillville’s major extant historic buildings that would have been visited by Antonin Dvorak during his stay in the village during the summer of 1893. Michael F. Klimesh also said: "Because of the importance of this structure and its history, the Czech Heritage Partnership and the residents of our area are very grateful to Cyril Klimesh for his generosity and his leadership of this vital preservation project."

According to Cyril Klimesh’s Spillville history, the Big Stones Mill was started by a partnership of three Decorah businessmen: Morse, Salls, and Collier. "…the structure was described as having two mill stones and a 20 foot double reel bolt, run by a 48 inch Leffel wheel." A later news article claimed the mill was "…doing first class business and was a tip-top opportunity for a practical miller." Cyril Klimesh’s history also notes: "The mill had a capacity of 300 bushels of grain a day. Of the 56,900 bushels which were milled during the fiscal year ending June 1870, this grain produced 6,000 barrels of flour and 225 tons of feed. Described as an ‘A-1 product’ and trademarked ‘Big Stones,’ the flour was shipped to Chicago where it compared favorably with the best brands of spring wheat flour on the market. A barrel of flour sold for $4.00."

Michael F. Klimesh also pointed out: "During the Mill’s first twenty years, title to the property changed several times. After 1886, one of the Mill’s owners was John Bernatz, who had family connections to the owners of Decorah’s Painter-Bernatz Mill. The Bernatz family owned the Spillville mill up to the 1950’s. The Big Stones Mill served the entire surrounding community – including Czech, Norwegian, German, and Swiss immigrants. The Czech Heritage Partnership is eager to restore the Mill in order to share the important early history of milling and agriculture, and their centrality to the communities in this region. The Big Stones Mill structure should not be confused with the Spielmann mill that was once located on the south side of town on Wander Creek. We are very lucky to be able to preserve and share this remaining historic mill building."

The Czech Heritage Partnership, formed in 2003, is a not-for-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation of history and heritage. In full cooperation with other ethnic heritage groups, the Czech Heritage Partnership has been promoting education, presenting special music programs, and working on historic preservation and genealogy. "The restoration and adaptive future use of the Big Stones Mill will be an important focus of the Partnership’s energies in the coming years," added Michael F. Klimesh. "The Mill will become primarily a center for education and community use, whether this effort takes the form of interpretation through tours and displays about the Mill itself and/or use as a visitor’s center and for general activities. The Mill’s handsome appearance, history, and location all contribute to its long-range viability as a center of activity in welcoming and educating visitors, helping them understand this area and its agricultural and economic history, while sharing the natural beauty of the site."

The Czech Heritage Partnership is currently forming a steering committee for the planning, physical activities and fundraising needed to restore the Mill. Everyone interested in participating in this project should contact Michael F. Klimesh and the Czech Heritage Partnership:

Czech Heritage Partnership
P.O. Box 186
Protivin,IA 52163

or email Steven Klimesh at


Big Stones Mill, Spillville IA
Czech Heritage Partnership
P.O. Box 186, Protivin,IA 52163