Skip to main content

State Fair tradition? Hey, this was an Old Mill 100 years ago

  • Author:
  • Updated:

The oldest attraction at the State Fair is turning 100. Happy "Ye Old Mill Day," Minnesota!

Gov. Mark Dayton and the mayors of both Twin Cities plan to attend a ceremony at the ride on opening day of the Fair Thursday, where they'll make Dayton's proclamation of the day official.

They'll be joined by John Keenan, who oversees Ye Old Mill and is the grandson of its founder.

KSTP reports Ye Old Mill is also marking its centennial with sales of anniversary T-shirts and a commemorative photo backdrop.

In anticipation of the ride's birthday, WCCO collected video of it last summer.

This embed is invalid

If you've never been for a ride through Ye Old Mill, you're probably in the dark about its appeal.

But that seems to be a big part of the attraction: the dark.

Not much happens after you board one of the boats that floats in a 970-foot circle for a few minutes. You'll drift past a few diorama-like scenes featuring gnomes and leprechauns. But mostly you'll just sit in the dark.

Keenan and his four sons who help operate Ye Old Mill told the Pioneer Press a few years ago the darkness creates a sense of mystery – and can be a good place to steal a kiss.

MPR News visited a couple whose State Fair tradition – now 15 years old – is to be the last riders on Ye Old Mill on the final day of the Fair.

Ochen Kaylen and Leslie Ball are now a couple, but they used to be just friends ... until that fateful first ride together through Ye Old Mill:

"I did some maneuvering to figure out how I could sit in a boat with Leslie, when there was a big group of us," Kaylan told MPR. "You know, just as buddies, sitting in the dark, and listening to the waves lap against the boat. I think that definitely played a part in us being a little more than friends."

John Keenan told the Pioneer Press the paddlewheel of Ye Old Mill is powered by its original 1913 engine.

His grandfather hired the Philadelphia Toboggan Company to build the ride, at about the same time they were building a carousel that was a State Fair landmark for more than seventy years and now rests in St. Paul's Como Park.

Tunnels of love were popular a century ago. Ye Old Mill rides popped up all over the country and MPR says Keenan's grandfather operated seven of them.

Most eventually faded away, although there are a few exceptions. Ye Old Mill at the Kansas State Fair is also turning 100 this week. Iowa's Ye Old Mill ride actually blew down in a storm in 1996 but that proved to be the impetus for rebuilding it.

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-08-17 at 8.31.42 PM

Flash flooding as torrential rain hammers Cambridge

Flooding and damage from a non-severe storm Wednesday evening.

Screen Shot 2022-08-17 at 4.02.18 PM

Minneapolis nonprofit celebrates anonymous donor's $1.5M gift

Appetite For Change is building sustainable, local food systems in North Minneapolis.

police lights

On the lam since 2007, suspect in MN murder case arrested in Florida

The suspect is one of three men connected to a fatal drive-by shooting on St. Paul's West Side.

Deer on road

Motorcyclist in collision with deer dies from injuries

The 55-year-old from Princeton died at a hospital a day after the crash.


Burnsville approves measure that will make its landfill much taller

The expansion will increase the landfill's allowable height by an additional 268 feet.

michael carbo

Northern MN man found guilty in 1980s cold case murder

Nancy Daugherty was found dead in the afternoon hours of July 16, 1986.

Red Ox Cafe

Breakfast spot in Ham Lake closes after decades in business

The business posted an announcement on its front door.

Screen Shot 2022-08-17 at 1.43.04 PM

St. Paul man killed partner, himself while their 5 kids were home

St. Paul confirmed the double shooting on Tuesday evening was murder-suicide.

Kids competing in USA Mullet Championships

Minnesota, Wisconsin kids competing in USA Mullet Championships

The contest is divided into kids and teens divisions.


One killed after being trapped under UTV near Alexandria

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office says the victim died at the scene.


What's in the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Biden?

How the nation's biggest climate law will reduce emissions.

Patrick Henry High School

Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis will get new name

A school board meeting was held this week, discussing what's next going forward.


Minnesota State Fair off to rough start

Opening day at the fair started off a little bumpy with a brief ride malfunction and lower attendance at the pig barn after the Swine Flu virus raised cause for concern. Day two kicks of with the Governor's Fire Prevention Day and Alan Jackson performs at the Grandstand tonight.