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Published July 25, 2009, 11:22 PM

Historic Preston grain elevator could be museum

Venture into downtown Preston, and it’s tough to miss the towering, cherry-red grain elevator. At the turn of the 20th century, this elevator served as a bustling commercial hub. Preston residents hope to once again make this grain elevator a community gathering spot.

By: Heather J. Carlson, Post-Bulletin of Rochester

PRESTON, Minn. — Venture into downtown Preston, and it’s tough to miss the towering, cherry-red grain elevator.

At the turn of the 20th century, this elevator served as a bustling commercial hub with farmers dropping off wagonloads of grain. Trains poured into town, collected the grain and delivered it to the big city.

But while those wagons and trains are long gone, some Preston residents hope to once again make this grain elevator a community gathering spot. The goal is to transform the elevator into a museum and interpretive center to tell the stories of Preston.

“(The elevator) is the only thing left that takes us back as far as the commercial agriculture of Preston,” said Dick Petsch, president of the Preston Historical Society.

Amcndment aid

Petsch hopes the elevator project will end up getting funding through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment approved by voters last fall. The amendment included a three-eights of 1 per-cent sales tax increase that requires the pro-ceeds be spent on con-servation, the arts and historic preservation. The Minnesota Historical Society will be responsi-ble for doling out $2.2 million in historic and cultural grants this year and $4.5 million in 2010.

State Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, was the top Republican on a House committee that helped determine how the legacy dollars were distributed. Davids managed to get included in the bill language that states the Preston grain elevator project is eligible for these grants.

“The community has worked very, very hard over the year to fundraise,” Davids said. “They want to go to the next level, and they feel they need some help.”

Some criticism

The project has been the subject of criticism. The Minnesota Taxpayers League included it on a “questionable spending” list related to the legacy amendment funding. But Davids, who opposed the constitutional amendment, said that since voters approved the amendment, it is up to the Legislature to make sure the money is spent as intended.

“Part of those funds were to go to maintain our history and a project such as the Preston ele-vator is a project of historical significance,” Davids said.

The crib-style grain elevator was built in 1902 by the Milwaukee Elevator Co. After years of neglect, the old elevator was restored, thanks to the efforts of residents and a $22,500 matching grant from the state his-torical society.

The Preston Historical Society has since ac-quired and restored a 1939 Milwaukee Road train car that sits in front of the elevator. The society also has plans to add a Milwaukee Road caboose. The hope is to add on to the existing grain elevator to recreate the scalehouse and grain dump that have since been demolished.

Petsch said the plans also call for attaching an interpretive center. Visi-tors would be able to tour the center and museum with exhibits in the cen-ter and in the train cars. The total project cost, including parking lot and street improvements, is $362,630.

Though the Preston grain elevator project is mentioned in the bill, that doesn’t mean it will receive funding. The Minnesota Historical Society is collecting public input on how the money should be spent through town hall meet-ings across the state, including in Rochester, according to Michael Fox, the society’s deputy director. An advisory committee comprised of residents will help determine where the dollars go.

For now, Petsch is crossing his fingers.

“We’re hoping we can get something,” he said.

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