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Village of Gays Mills celebrates 164-year history
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The settler James Gay, whose name and industry provided a name to this community, Gays Mills, first came to the area in 1847.

Finding a favorable site, he built a sawmill and dam on the Kickapoo River, milling trees floated down the river from the LaFarge-Ontario area into saleable lumber. Within a year, a home was constructed nearby. A second mill, this time for flour, was erected in 1865 through the partnership of another member of the Gay family, John Gay, and millwright George Wilbur.

By the time the village was first officially platted in 1892, the population residing near the mills had increased to 140.

Eight years later, the village incorporated under the name Gays Mills.

By 1938, there were two significant introductions to the civic history of Gays Mills.

The first were the preliminary studies of flood reduction measures undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to be interrupted by the advent of WWII and not restarted until the 1950s.

The second was construction of the Gays Mills Community Building, which housed the village offices upstairs and leased the downstairs to the Kickapoo Theater, upon the site of the former livery and blacksmith shop. The project was authorized through the federal government’s Works Progress Administration, an ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects.

The work was performed by volunteers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, Company 1604, stationed two miles north of Gays Mills.

From 1933 - 1942, CCC volunteers planted nearly three billion trees, constructed over 800 parks nationally, upgraded state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built rural service buildings and public roadways across the U.S.

Built on slightly raised ground, with the swampland immediately behind the building drained and reclaimed for parking, the building remained dry through the village’s periodic flooding. It was not until the flood in 2008 that the building saw water pass the threshold, flooding its first floor with four to six inches of water, exceeding the effects of a flood 10 months earlier, which had been deemed to exceed the 500-year flood level.

The two back-to-back floods, August 2007 and June 2008 resulting in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency making funding available for the relocation of municipal buildings out of the floodplain.