GAYS MILLS - It was truly a “Wow!” moment on Wednesday, Sept. 11, when 2019 Gays Mills Swimming Pool Manager Kayla Fortney arrived at the office of the Independent. There, she learned that members of the Sesquicentennial Cookbook Committee were donating $5,000 to the pool fundraising effort.
Members of the committee present included Kathryn (Tamling) Pittsley, Sharon Chellevold and Lana (Kvigne) Randall. Members of the committee that had passed away included Bea Sandborn, Ruth Kvigne and former Gays Mills Village Clerk Robin Eitsert.
“We are happy to be able to donate $5,000 to the pool restoration effort,” Pittsley remarked. “Hopefully our donation will inspire others to donate.”
Pool Manager Kayla Fortney told the group that the pool had had its best summer in many years this year, and that the staff that worked there all want to come back next year.
“I appreciate this donation more than you can imagine,” Fortney said. “You’re one of our biggest donors.”
Fortney said that other larger donations had come from Steve Mickelson, Jerry Boehm, and Bentson Insurance. She said that the pool is planning a way to commemorate all the people and businesses that donated to the restoration effort.
The Village of Gays Mills Sesquicentennial or 150thbirthday was celebrated on July 4-5, 1998. The event included an all-class reunion, a ball tournament, a grandstand show, fireworks and a parade.
Sometime in early 1997, a group of women from the village began to form plans of creating a Sesquicentennial Cookbook. This book captured a quintessential part of the history of the area in the favorite and treasured recipes from the people who cooked the community’s meals.
“Kathy and I were out walking together one day in 1997 as we frequently did, and our discussion wandered to the topic of how we could help to commemorate Gays Mills’ Sesquicentennial,” Sharon Chellevold remembered. “We hit upon the idea of gathering favorite recipes in the community for a commemorative cookbook.”
From there, the rest of the members of the committee joined with the two. Their efforts to gather recipes included outreach to current residents as well as to residents who had moved away from the area.
“Our goal in creating the cookbook was to lift up the history of Gays Mills and to honor the women that have gone before us,” Kathryn Pittsley said.
The first mention of the cookbook effort in the pages of the Independent came in April of 1997. The brief news item noted that forms to submit recipes would be available at the Royal Bank, Todd’s Kwik Stop, the Kickapoo Locker, Lana’s Hair Care, and from the village clerk.
By the end of October 1997, an entry in the newspaper noted that the cookbooks were selling fast. It encouraged those who wished to purchase them for Christmas gifts to hurry because there were only 250 of the 1,000 printed remaining.
The Sesquicentennial celebration was wildly successful, with a large crowd. Two dances, a volleyball tournament, and a horseshoe tournament had been added to the lineup of events. Local authors Ben Logan and Pearl Swiggum had book signings in the museum downtown, and a ‘Museum of the Kickapoo’ was opened in the old dam powerhouse as well.
Eventually, the cookbook committee realized that, through sales of the cookbook, they had actually acquired considerable funds. They decided to erect a sesquicentennial monument in Robb Park. The monument was dedicated at the Apple Festival in 1998.
The front of the monument tells the story of the founding of Gays Mills, and the back of the monument contains additional information and photos of Gays Mills Main Street in 1890 and 1998.
A time capsule, funded by the Gays Mills High School Reunion Committee, was buried under the monument. The time capsule is intended to be dug up in 2048, which will be the village’s 200-year anniversary.
Originally the monument was located on the north side of the highway, but was moved to its current location on the south side of Highway 131 when issues with right-of-ways came to light. Every year Sharon Chellevold and other members of the committee take care of the flower plantings that surround the monument with blooming beauty.
The monument itself was created by Krause Monument, and Bruce Pittsley did the work of building the foundation.
The beginning of the cookbook gives a brief description of the history of the Village of Gays Mills.
In the year 1847 James B. Gay, a civil engineer and native of Indiana, arrived in the sparsely settled Kickapoo River Valley. The hundreds of acres of untouched forest impressed him. This led him to found a sawmill in Gays Mills, about a rod above the current dam.
Mr. Gay built a lucrative business, sawing the pine logs from LaFarge and Ontario that were rafted down the Kickapoo River. Eventually, in addition to rough lumber, the mills also produced shingles and lathe.
Between 1848 and 1860, many families came to the community, now called Gays Mills after its founder. In 1865, one of James Gay’s descendants, John Gay, entered into a partnership with George Wilbur to build a flourmill along the river just south of the sawmill.
The mill passed through the hands of several Gay family members, who continued to operate it until 1888.
Because the Gays’ mill was the only flourmill within twenty-five or thirty miles, it enjoyed a flourishing business. Farmers from as far away as Eastman patronized its services, and it was not unusual to see thirty or forty teams lined up waiting to have their wheat ground.While the sawmill ceased operations in 1878, the flourmill continued to dominate the business life of the community. The flourmill was eventually sold to the King, Haggerty Company. The new owners enlarged the mill with an addition over the road, and installed new roller type flourmills. Atwood Haggerty continued to operate the mill until 1924, when it was sold to the Interstate Power Company who later tore it down.