The family that has run the Ye Old Mill ride at the Minnesota State Fair for more than a century has called it quits, but the classic boat ride that has taken lovebirds through dark tunnels will keep going.
The fair has bought the 102-year-old ride from the Keenan family, which has operated the popular attraction ever since it began in 1915.
“It’s such an important part of the fair,” said Jerry Hammer, the fair’s general manager. “Everybody has a fair story about the Ye Old Mill. It’s still in the same spot and other than rerouting one of the canals a bit, it’s the same ride that your great-grandparents went on. That’s pretty cool.”
Officials on Sunday announced the acquisition of the fair’s oldest ride, in which passengers float down long, dark tunnels past dioramas that feature 3-D scenes from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and other fairy-tale favorites.
Hammer did not reveal the price, but said the fair paid the “appraised value” to keep the wheels at Underwood Street and Carnes Avenue turning.
Fourth-generation operator Jim Keenan said the decision to sell a big part of family history was in the making for a couple of years, as it was time-consuming to run and maintain the one-of-a-kind ride. The fair, he said, was the perfect buyer because “we wanted to see what we could do to be sure it would be around another 100 years.”
He believes the fair will maintain the integrity of the ride, which is still powered by its original motor dating to 1898, and do the necessary maintenance.
Keenan said he and his three brothers will miss owning the ride and the stories he hears from fairgoers.
“Last year a great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and daughter rode in the boat,” he said. “It is a ride for every year of life.”
Keenan’s great-grandfather built the ride, designed by the Philadelphia Toboggan company. The Keenans at one time owned several other mill rides around the country, but the Minnesota version is the only survivor.
$11M in fair upgrades
The purchase was included in more than $11 million in improvements approved for 2018 by the fair’s board of managers. Of that, $1 million will be spent to replace the old Pet Center. The new space, on the fairground’s north end, could include two pavilions and a courtyard to improve conditions for exhibitors and visitors, Hammer said.
Most of the money, $7.2 million, will be spent on Machinery Hill to upgrade water, sewer and electrical lines for concessions and traveling exhibits. The work also includes new restrooms, streetlights, landscaping and remaking a one-block segment near the Great Sing Along and Skyglider on Murphy Avenue.
“The north end will look very different this year,” Hammer said.
The fair also will upgrade roads and sidewalks, improve pavement in the four-year-old Transit Center and upgrade ventilation in the Sheep and Poultry Barn.
This year’s fair runs Aug. 23 to Sept. 3. Admission will remain the same as in 2017: $14 for visitors 13 to 64; $12 for youth 5 to 12 and seniors 65 and older; and free for kids 4 and younger. Discount tickets sold before the fair begins will be $11 for all ages.
A record 1,997,320 people attended the fair in 2017.