Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Stone windmill symbolizes strength of Minnesota immigrants August 29, 2019

Walking toward Seppman Mill, located just outside a fenced area holding bison at Mnneopa State Park, rural Mankato, Minnesota.


IN THE PRAIRIE PART of Minneopa State Park where the bison roam, an historic stone windmill stands tall on the prairie’s edge. Minus the blades.


Interpretive signs detail the mill’s history.



The granary was rebuilt in 1970 to its original size.


The Seppman Mill symbolizes the strength and grit of the early immigrants, among them Louis Seppman. Seeing a need for a local flour mill, this stone mason started crafting the mill in 1862 from local stone hand-carried or transported in wheelbarrows to the site, according to the book, Minnesota: A State Guide.



The task of constructing the windmill patterned after those in Seppman’s native Germany took two years. Eruption of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict in the region in 1862 delayed construction. Once operational, the mill could grind 150 bushels of wheat into flour on a day of favorable winds.



While the wind powered the arms of the 32-foot high windmill, it also proved the mill’s ultimate demise. In 1873, lightning struck and knocked off two of the arms and sails. Seven years later, tornadic winds ripped off the replacement arms. And, finally, in 1890, a third storm damaged the mill beyond repair.


A prairie restoration is underway here at Minneopa as noted in this sign posted near the windmill.


I can only imagine the frustration of Seppman and others who tried, tried and tried again to keep the mill operating. Three strikes and you’re out seems applicable.


Coneflowers, with their deep roots, thrive among the prairie grasses.


But then I consider all they did to even get the mill built. Those early settlers truly exemplify hard work and determination. How many of us would carry all those stones up an inclined roadway and then seemingly puzzle-piece the stones together? It’s remarkable really.


Black-eyed susans.


I’m thankful this windmill has been mostly restored and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It is a visual tribute to the early settlers of Minnesota, a reminder of the value these immigrants brought to this land, to this state, to this prairie place they called home. Then. And still today.


A sign along the prairie’s edge near the mill informs about bison in Minnesota.


Here, where the bison once roamed.


© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


19 Responses to “Stone windmill symbolizes strength of Minnesota immigrants”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    What an elegant old building! Simple, powerful, functional, that is the best of architecture.

  2. Missy’s Håndarbeid (Missy’s Crafty Mess) Says:

    Interesting that they weren’t able to repair it yet it’s still standing 140 years later. What a work of art!

  3. valeriebollinger Says:

    We have seen this beautiful stone windmill and granary in Minneopa State Park. They are beautiful and an example of hard work and determination.

  4. Bella Says:

    It is a visual tribute to the early settlers of Minnesota, a reminder of the value these immigrants brought to this land, to this state, to this prairie place they called home. Then. And still today.

    Great lines above Audrey as we should be reminded of the values embraced by immigrants who worked hard to make a home in a new land. We take so much for granted and many expect a lot without having to work for it. Thanks for the insightful posting.

    • You are welcome. I really wanted to connect this windmill to the immigrants of today. And that was easy to do. I was reading yesterday about actress Kuoth Wiel, a young woman who attended my church and Christian day school. Her parents escaped from war-torn Sudan to Ethiopia, where she was born. Kuoth starred in the 2014 movie The Good Lie. Her story is like that of so many other refugees. We cannot even begin to imagine the challenges and horrors of their lives before they arrived in the U.S. I see many hardworking immigrants in my community who are rebuilding their lives.

  5. I love when historic places can be restored and their stories told. I have tried my hand at a few DIY house projects and it is not easy even with power tools. I cannot imagine how they did it back in the day and then you have mother nature to contend with too. I guess you truly do not know your strength until it becomes survival. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

  6. Gunny Says:

    I would offer a movie called the Green Dragon which I found checking out my new ROKU on Amazon Prime. Green Dragon deals with the subject of refugees collected during Operation Eagle Pull during the last days of the Republic of Viet Nam. I was there during Operation Frequent Wind which followed and saw the last of the Republic of Viet Nam. The stories are endless and their lives (and ours) were forever changed.

    Then came the Cuban refugees in 1980. Again stories abound. During this operation, refugees were housed BUT someone FINALLY decided to show the Cubans the same that had been shown the Vietnamese. Show them the cities and lifestyles of Americans.

    The Norwegians, Germans, Poles, Russians, Irish, English and others who immigrated in the 1800s had no backup plan and no infrastructure or social network other than other family members and churches to fall back on when the failed. The whole reason for the 1862 Uprising was that the U.S. Government failed in their support of the Sioux who were at that point starving.

    This mill was built for a much needed commodity by the pioneers. It ground grain into flour. I have one story of a new immigrant who brought 17 barrels of flour! Flour was an expensive and rare (on the frontier) commodity much in demand. People went to great distances to get their flour ground. Lower east side of Minnesota was part of the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and my uncle was 5th owner of the property he got (1858). Original owner had been granted the land for his service in the War of 1812. This was the pioneers building civilization out of but what they had. A monument to their ability, ingenuity, craftsmanship and dedication.

  7. Beth Ann Says:

    I have already decided that I would not make a good pioneer/ settler at all. This kind of life was tough and I am a bit too soft. To see the windmill and know how those people who built it must have worked to the point of exhaustion. But also the pride in seeing what they accomplished must have been overwhelming. I am grateful for those who went before, aren’t you?

  8. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    I just love these historic buildings, so many that I haven’t seen….thanks for sharing Audrey 🙂

  9. Littlesundog Says:

    I often feel such a strong pull when I read about early settlers and prairie life. I wonder about my ancestors – those who came to find land and settle, surviving in harsh conditions.

    The stone structures certainly reminded me of mills and wind towers and walls on my trip to Germany last year. I stood in awe as I studied these mammoth structures. The Germans have done a fantastic job in preserving history and sharing with the world.

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