During a recent visit to the Champion water-powered mill, we discovered why Nebraskans might consider it a perfect road-trip stop.
Champion, which is on the Frenchman River, is the site of an old-time water powered mill. Preliminary construction on the mill began in the fall of 1886. We caught up with Kristy Eskew to talk more about the attraction. "The first mill burned down, and they built this particular one in 1892," Eskew said. "It was used to mill flour for the local farmers." This was at a time when Chase County was transitioning from ranching to farming. "There was also a feed room upstairs, and farmers were able to sell excess wheat," Eskew said.
The mill wheel itself is very interesting in this building. "When our visitors come, they expect to see a vertical turbine, and ours is horizontal, and it rests on a piece of South American vine that does not rot when it gets wet," Eskew said. The mill was used as a business from 1892 to 1956. "During World War II, they shut the mill down because of a lack of labor," Eskew said. The mill was sited on the Frenchman River in Champion for a number of reasons. The natural water flow of the river was a big reason, but also the people of Champion were hoping that the mill would bring more settlers into town, and perhaps the community would become the Chase County seat. But, that ended up in Imperial as the railroad went to Imperial instead of the hamlet of Champion.
The lake near the mill was also used in a number of ways. "In the late 1800's, it was the only body of water that people could come and canoe on," Eskew said. "They rented out wool swimming suits, they had canoe races, and they had a 20-foot diving tower." Now the area offers camping, and of course, tours of the mill. "We are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day on the weekends from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and special requests are honored if we can make them work. You can call the Chase County roads department for more information," Eskew said.