Every time Donna Madden drives by Crossroads Community Park in downtown Seymour and sees the Blish Milling Co. flywheel, she’s going to get emotional.
Her eyes will tear up as she remembers happy memories of her father and the sadness of not having him around anymore.
Leroy Barnett helped rescue the 12-foot wheel in 1976 when Seymour’s Blish Mill was being demolished, Madden said.
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“He worked for George Darlage and helped pull it out of there to save it,” she said. “I remember him saying that it was heavy and difficult to get to.”
The 16.5 ton wheel generated power for the five story Blish Mill from 1886 to 1951 and was a piece of the city’s history. It was proudly displayed alongside the former Farmers Club building downtown in the area that was One Chamber Square next to the Seymour Chamber of Commerce on South Chestnut Street. Later, it was discarded at Freeman Municipal Airport, where it was all but forgotten.
In 2009, a group of antique tractor enthusiasts rallied to have the wheel moved to property in Reddington that was owned by club member Hubert Hazard. The Reddington Rear Wheelers raised funds to have it moved to 1100 N. U.S. 31 and also sandblasted and restored to its current condition.
They created a public display at the site where people could stop to learn about the flywheel and have their picture taken with it.
Hazard died in 2012, and his daughter, Pam Obermeyer, who inherited the property, requested the city move the wheel in 2018 because of liability concerns.
The Rear Wheelers relinquished its interest in the flywheel back to the city in September 2019, saying it didn’t have the money or a place to move the wheel.
Efforts to return the wheel began under former Mayor Craig Luedeman and former parks Director Bob Tabeling.
The Seymour Parks and Recreation Board approved moving the wheel to the park in October 2019.
On Thursday morning, Madden braved cold temperatures to witness the wheel return.
Helping to relocate the wheel was her son, Bobby Carr, who works for Lawyer Excavation Inc. in Seymour. That company, along with local businesses Hercamp Crane and 31 Wrecker Service, worked together to load the wheel onto a flatbed trailer, haul it to the park and secure it on a specially designed concrete base.
Others involved with the project were Kleber Concrete, King’s Trucking and Excavation and Shelby Materials. The final cost to the city ended up being between $2,500 and $3,000 thanks to discounts and donations from the businesses. The project was estimated to cost between $8,000 and $10,000.
The wheel arrived at the park around 9:45 a.m. and within 30 minutes was secured in its new home on a hill near where the railroad tracks meet on the park’s northwest corner.
“It’s emotional,” Madden said watching the wheel’s progression through the park. “It’s like it has come full circle. This is where it needs to be.”
She said her father was heartbroken when the wheel was dumped at the airport, where it sat unwanted for years.
Barnett passed away in 1983.
Madden said it was fitting her son was part of the efforts to save the wheel again.
She made sure to go live on Facebook to share the moment with her family and friends.
Madden wasn’t the only one to turn out to witness the wheel’s relocation as parks department employees, including Director Stacy Findley and maintenance supervisor Chad Keithley, Mayor Matt Nicholson, Seymour Main Street Executive Director Becky Schepman and a few others gathered to watch.
Nicholson said seeing the wheel anchored in the park, which is across the street from where the Blish Mill silos still stand, was a sight to behold.
“It’s just beautiful,” he said. “And it’s the perfect location.”
Plans are being discussed to erect some kind of fencing, additional landscaping and a plaque.
Seymour City Councilman Jerry Hackney said he didn’t want to miss the occasion.
“I thought it would really be something to see them move it. We’ve been talking about this for some time now. It’s good to see it happening,” he said. “It’s always good to save a piece of history.”