The renovation of the Milwaukee Elevator is one of the Preston Historical Society’s most involved projects. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a wonderful addition to the trailhead area, depicting Preston’s history as a railroad town.  LISA BRAINARD FILE PHOTO
The renovation of the Milwaukee Elevator is one of the Preston Historical Society’s most involved projects. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a wonderful addition to the trailhead area, depicting Preston’s history as a railroad town. LISA BRAINARD FILE PHOTO
The city of Preston was founded in 1855 by miller John Kraecher, who named the town after his millwright, Luther Preston. Preserving the history they and other past generations have left behind has been the main goal of the Preston Historical Society (PHS).

At the urging of the PHS, a proclamation by the Preston City Council on June 17, 2013, officially distinguished the month of July as Preston History Month. The proclamation came just prior to the PHS beginning a July membership campaign.

As stated in the proclamation, "The Preston City Council encourages members of the community to further these preservation efforts by joining the Preston Historical Society."

Preston Historical Society President Dick Petsch said, "I think everybody should have a sense of their history."

He explained that Preston has a rich history in agriculture and in the railroad industry. He called on those who have grown up in Preston to take interest in what the PHS is working to accomplish. "It's in the best interest of Preston to share in the enlightenment and study of the history of the town," Petsch added.

The proclamation goes on to state, "Since 2000 the Preston Historical Society has been helping to preserve the history of Preston."

PHS member Sheila Craig explained that before the city had an organized historical preservation effort, a few pieces of Preston history failed to be properly preserved. She noted the railroad depot and roundtable as sad examples of the city failing to preserve its history.

According to the proclamation, the PHS has played an active role to "preserve the agricultural, rail and business history of Preston. The 1902 Milwaukee Elevator has been preserved and is on the National Register of Historic Buildings." The elevator has been the foundation from which the PHS has continued to work. They brought in "authentic rail cars including a Milwaukee Road boxcar and a Milwaukee Road caboose . . . to commemorate the rail history of the community."

Currently, the PHS has been seeking funding for a future reconstruction effort that would restore the bagging shed and scale house that were at one time attached to the Milwaukee Elevator. The bagging shed was originally located just north of the elevator and the scale house was on the west side. There are still original pieces of the scale house and weighing mechanism, and Craig said there were other original pieces that could be acquired for the reconstruction. Any funding is going toward paying an historical architect to work on the reconstruction planning.

The PHS is also working with the state historical society in submitting applications for grants that would pay for the reconstruction. The city has already received grants for an archaeological study and planning of the other pieces of the elevator complex.

Craig pointed out that the PHS has been trying to get funding back to the elevator site ever since it was cut out from the construction project for the Preston bike trail. Craig stressed the importance of taking care of the elevator site. "It's now a symbol of Preston and important for civic pride," she stated adding that preserving it would leave a legacy for future generations.

The proclamation concludes with a promise that "joining the Preston Historical Society will give you the opportunity to help preserve the history of Preston."

The PHS has different memberships available as part of its fundraising and membership campaign: family, $25 per year; individual, $20; lifetime family or individual, $100; business, $50; and lifetime business, $150.

The PHS is also holding a raffle with a drawing to be held at the end of August. If the members sell 1,000 tickets, F&M Community Bank will match by donating $1,000. Each ticket is two dollars and will be entered into drawings for gift certificates, sporting goods, and cash prizes.

Coming up

PHS volunteers will be at the O'Hara Schoolhouse during the Fillmore County Fair next week. The schoolhouse is located on the fairgrounds permanently since moving it from Amherst Township in 1962. The schoolhouse was rededicated last year after several major renovations. This year, the hours for touring the schoolhouse will be July 23 from 5 to 8 p.m., July 24 through 26 from noon until 9 p.m., and July 27 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Another project the PHS has been working on is the moving of Preston High School senior class pictures to be viewable at the Preston Public Library. These were donated by the high school to the Fillmore County Historical Society, who recently transferred them to the PHS.

The PHS is planning on sponsoring a Bluff Country Autumn Tractor Ride on Sept. 14 and 15. The two-day event is being planned in conjunction with the Fillmore County Ag Society (Fair Board). Groups of tractors will ride around the county in two separate loops and return to the fairgrounds each day. Look for more details closer to the event.