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


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.

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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.

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