Historical society continues work on McMichel grain elevator in Harmony

PHOTO COURTESY OF HARMONY AREA HISTORICAL SOCIETY Today, the elevator serves as a welcome point to Harmony as it sits at the intersection of Highways 52 and 139.
Melissa Vander Plas

Progress continues to be made on the renovation of the historic McMichel grain elevator in Harmony. The project is being coordinated by the Harmony Area Historical Society and continues to evolve as more is learned about the historic structure and its current condition.

The elevator was donated to the city by Jeff and Barb Soma and the local historical society is working with Robert Vogel of Pathfinder Cultural Resource Management of Spring Grove to determine the site’s eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

Ralph Beastrom of the historical society, and one of the members of the grain elevator committee, recently provided an update on the project and the status of the site’s historical significance.

The building has been emptied of the miscellaneous items that had been stored there and a professional cleaning company has been contacted to come in and do the interior cleaning, which includes some grain that is several decades old.

Beastrom also reported that the study, which will determine the site’s eligibility for the National Register, is well underway. Vogel has determined that the elevator is a McMichel Grain Co. elevator and this will be the key emphasis for being eligible for the Register. A preservation architect has reviewed the building as well as historic photos and measurements have been taken of the building.

The report is about 95 percent complete and should be completed later this month to meet the preliminary application deadline of Feb. 1. The final paperwork is due on July 30.

“We should be way ahead of the deadline,” Beastrom said.

The McMichel elevator was erected in the early years (circa 1879) when the railroad first came to Harmony and was critical to Harmony’s development. Based on the elevator’s historical significance to agricultural and economic development of Fillmore County and the state of Minnesota, the Harmony Area Historical Society sees the need to facilitate a project that would address the elevator’s preservation and restoration.

In June, the historical society received a $3,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to hire Vogel to evaluate the 1879 elevator for possible inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

The committee also received a $10,000 grant from the Harmony Area Community Foundation that can be used for cleanup, signage and “critical” work, Beastrom explained.

Beastrom said the committee has done a lot “behind the scenes” to reach this point. Since 2016, the historical society has completed a limestone foundation study, held discussions with other local historical societies, contractors and a preservation architect to discuss the feasibility of undertaking a project of this scope.

Once Harmony established a connection to the McMichel family, Vogel said its chances of having the grain elevator listed greatly increased.

If the site is designated to the National Register, Vogel noted in a previous meeting that it will open up many new resources for Harmony, including future grant opportunities.

Members of the historical society are also working on a project brochure, which will help in fundraising efforts for the renovation project.

Graphic designer and local resident Karen Leno designed a logo for the project and she and Vicky Tribon and Carol Rhodes have been developing the brochure. Photos of the elevator now and photos of it in the past are featured as well as information about the elevator.

Because this could be an extensive, and therefore expensive, project, information about donating to help support the restoration project is also included.

It is important to note that the elevator is in relatively good shape. “Our building is pretty tight,” Beastrom said. “There’s not a lot of water in there.”

Architects and other building inspectors have determined that the elevator has a good foundation and is structurally sound. Of course, some work is needed to improve the stone foundation, including fixing loose stones on the exterior.

In the coming months, Beastrom outlined that the committee would be finalizing the brochure and working on the interior cleanup. Temporary electrical service is being hooked up to allow the space to be lit up when working inside.

The volunteers have also been working with the fire department to create a safety plan and keys have been given to the local officials to make sure it is accessible in case of an emergency.

With the 125th anniversary of Harmony being celebrated in 2020, the committee is also working on ways to promote the project throughout the year, including the annual Fourth of July celebration. Beastrom noted that in addition to the brochure, the volunteers are working on signage, a miniature model of the elevator for a parade float and media promotions.

The committee is also continuing to work on ideas for the future use of the grain elevator, which includes visiting other historic sites that are being used as interpretive sites and educational displays.

Beastrom noted that he is very grateful for the support the historical society has received from the City Council, City Attorney Greg Schieber and City Administrator Jerome Illg.

Mayor Steve Donney stated, “It’s good to have a project like this. It’s obviously going to take some time. But it’s good for Harmony to secure this piece of history.”

If one would like to help with the grain elevator restoration project, email the Harmony Area Historical Society at hahs@harmonytel.net.