MY LIFE IN A HISTORIC OLD MILL
By Marion Cook Zasadil
In the fall 1978 I heard The Old Bowens Mills was for sale.
I can still feel the excitement and that little tingle in my tummy when I first heard that The Old Mill was for sale. I could hardly wait to tell my husband, Neal. I said, “The Old Mills for sale, lets go look at it, just for fun.” We did, we went to look and never dreamed how that day would so totally and drastically change our lives forever!
I was so totally involved in all our projects I never had time to do anything extra. Now that I’m ‘retired’ I will try to share some of my memories. Here goes….
Old Bowens Mills is a four story water powered grist and cider mill, a state historic, site which was built in 1864 but had been abandoned for nearly 40 years. It is situated in a grove of Walnut Trees, next to its good sized tranquil, reflection pond. There were 19 acres of land where an abundance of seedling pines had been planted at random and were at that time about 3 foot tall. What a beautiful, peaceful setting. It was located about three miles or so from our home at Gun Lake, in beautiful Yankee Springs Township, Barry County, Michigan. It sat back from Briggs Road about 800’, so was barely in view of that main street. We traveled that way every few days and for years and I always tried to get a little peek of The Old Mill as we past by. Many people who lived close by never knew it was there until we came along and woke things up.
How well I remember that day, the former owners given us the key and we spent the whole day there rummaging around the deserted building, spending several hours on each of its floors. It was an unusual day, coolish in the morning, latter it turned off nice and then all of the sudden a quick storm blew in. It was as if we were being told, ‘this is what it’s like when it’s cool, warm or rainy.’ We could see that the roof needed repairs in certain places, which didn’t seem too serious and did not dampen our spirits. The road needed to be recrowned, because the water from the rain was running around and through the lower level of the mill instead of into the pond as it was designed to do. It was good for us to know these things.
Although most of the building was basically sound, the years of vandalism, disuse and slow deterioration had taken its toll. They say, “The worse use is no use.” We found that to be very true!
Under the dust and dirt, we discovered that besides the roof leaking here and there, lots of the siding had rotted and needed replacement or repair. There were some crumbling foundations and many doors and windows were boarded up where vandals had invaded.
Somehow, we were not seeing all these negative things:
We could almost feel Mr. Bowen’s presence and the pride he must have felt when he pinned the post and beams together.
We could almost hear the laughter and joking of the ‘old timers’ as they came with their wagons, loaded with grain to be ground and apples to be pressed into cider
We could almost feel the heartache and tears when the various accidents and deaths took place on the mill grounds, so many years ago.
We could almost feel the despair when the dam went out in 1901 and 1943 and The Old Mill teetered on its two end foundations and flood waters destroyed the saw mill and basement and much of its contents.
We could almost feel the disappointment—the let down, as we viewed the huge old broken gear, which was at last the cause for the water power to finely close down after 75 years of continuous operation.
Plans had been made with our three daughters and their families to bring pizza and join us in the late afternoon so that they could get at look at it too. We were most eager to show them every nook and cranny.
As we stood viewing The Old Mill, with grass and weeds up to our arm pits and pop cans and trash everywhere, I didn’t see all of the problems. I was seeing The Mill all restored, repainted, a large lawn looking like a park. I saw lots of people and children enjoying themselves touring this historic landmark and learning about the past. Many weddings taking place down by the old mill stream. Neighborhood kids would be coming for Bible Club, and there would be plenty of outdoor gospel concerts each year. It was such a peaceful place. I knew people would love to get out of the rush of their everyday city life and relax and enjoy the tranquility that surrounds The Old Mill and its setting.
I could feel a stirring in my inter being and I started thinking with my heart instead of our head.
I had fallen in love with The Old Mill.
Right away, I knew we had a very important decision to make. “Should we try to restore this poor Old Mill or just turn our backs and walk away and try to forget it as many others had done?”
The big thing that made that decision so hard was my husband, Neal’s. disabilities. In 1970, at age 40, he hurt his back in an industrial accident. After enduring two unsuccessful fusion surgeries, he was left to tolerate a life where the pain never stopped and he was forced to spend about 99% his time each day flat on his back. Several years later he suffered a heart attack because of his inactive life and was troubled with the aftermath of that also. He was able to get up and be around for 15 or 20 minutes at a time maybe three or four times a day, on his good days, but otherwise he had to be down flat, day in and day out. That didn’t take the pain away, but it made is almost tolerable.
Our home on Gun Lake was paid for and remolded with new carpeting and appliances added while we were both still working. We had a nice pick up and camper and it was so good to know that everything we had was paid for we didn’t owe anyone anything. We had even put some money into savings.
We hated being ‘set aside,’ so to speak; both of us were people who liked to see things happen. Before Neal’s back energy we were heavily involved in church, school and social events and on the go all the time. He hadn’t been able to go back to his job of Plant Manger of a Tool and Die Shop since his misfortune and I quit my good job as Office Manger at a Plastic Molding Plant after he had his heart attack to be at home to care for him. All our activities had to be canceled. It was nice just enjoying our cottage and the lake at first but after a while it seemed like we were on one long coffee break, year after year, after year! We were ready for some action.
Our first task before we could come up with a positive decision was to visit the Yankee Springs Township offices. I needed to share our vision and explain to them what we were thinking of doing. With Neal’s health problems, I did not want to go into this project if there was opposition; we had enough stress in our lives already. Taking on The Old Mill project would hopefully be therapy not added pressure.
Permits and inspections and things like that troubled us. It would be hard to work on a project such as this if there were demands as to how we did it. Upon speaking to the Township, told me they had no guide lines for historic restorations. We had lived in the area for most of our lives and were well known to them all. Their answer was, “We know you people, and know that whatever you do, you will do right.” I felt good about that. They were very pleased to know we were interested in the restoration. As far as we know Bowens Mills is the only existing water powered grist and cider mill in Michigan.
I then made a visit to the entire neighborhood and was delighted to find encouragement from everyone I talked to. The derelict old building had been vacated and pretty much unused for close to forty years, it was a target for vandals. Kids thought it was a great place for wild parties, so the people of the neighborhood hoped that all that would come to an end once we were there.
In four weeks that we were trying to decide if The Mill was for us or not, it was broke into four times. For some reason a few people seem to think a vacant building is ‘up for grabs’. They don’t stop to think someone still owns it. That was a little frightening but once we made the deal and started the clean up and restorations the vandalism stopped.
Even after speaking to all these people and getting so much encouragement we still had an important decision to make, a decision that would no doubt change our lives forever. A voice inside our heads was saying, a big “NO-NO! You can’t do it, with Neal’s ailments, there’s NO way you can do it.” Yet, something deep inside our hearts kept saying, “YES, YES, YES!!” Something we hadn’t counted on was happening—we were losing our sense of logic and we were suddenly thinking with our hearts instead of our heads. Something kept telling us, “YOU CAN DO IT.”
One day I would say, “NO, I think we should just forget it and stay where we are.” Neal would try to convince me that it was ok and we should try. The next day he would be telling me “No, we just can’t do it.” By then I was saying, “Yes, yes.” Then one day we were both in the mind frame that we should go ahead and buy The Old Mill. A phone call with an offer was made and before we knew it….we owned a mill!!!
The deal was closed October 1, 1978. The Old Mill now had brand new owners.…Neal and Marion Cook….and a new name….HISTORIC BOWENS MILLS. We took on the slogans of: “Say Yes to Yesterday” and “The Past Lives Again.” Our mission was: “Preserving Yankee Spring Township and Barry County’s past for future generations to learn from and enjoy.”
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Even though I wanted The Mill with a passion it was hard to give up our beautiful cottage that we had owned for so many years. It had to be put up for sale. Our savings were gone. What money we had set aside while we were in the ‘working world’, had been spent to supplement what our insurance didn’t pay at the many hospital stays over the years. The cottages value was about the same as the asking price of The Old Mill and we needed the money to complete the transaction. In the end, the cottage was sold and The Mill purchased and everything was timed out just right.
Had we really forfeited our lovely home on Gun Lake, it held so many wonderful memories of the fun we all had there when the kids were young, where everything was done and in its place, so we could buy this dirty old run down Mill that had no living quarters? It didn’t even have any running water or plumbing! It did have a limited amount of electric, which consisted of two hanging light bulbs but no plug-ins. Two light bulbs for four floors, does that make sense? Well, it seemed to. There were so many wonderful ideas and plans running around in my head, that it made it, somehow, seem okay.
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Our family came and helped us as we packed up all our ‘precious belongings,’ which was a lot. We were both ‘keepers.’ Everything was put into barrels and boxes and was taken to The Mill. We felt a little shaky about this with all the vandalism that had gone on. There was also the concern of all the little critters that had taken up residents in the old building over the years.
The day that the big move was made from the cottage to the mill a whole bunch of our friends showed up to help out. I really can’t remember exactly how many people were there but we ended up with 17 pick-up trucks along with several pulling trailers. I thought we could probably make the move with one caravan, however, that guess was way off. They all had to go back and forth several times. Once they were to The Mill, they created a relay line from the truck that was being unloaded to the area of where it would be stored for the winter. It was pretty neat to watch them pass the boxes from man to man and finely end up with them in place. I felt so indebted to them all. It was hard to believe they were having such a wonderful time while they were working. Joking and laughter could be heard from all directions!
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Our winters had been spent in Florida for many years. Neal was unable to tolerate the cold weather in Michigan. Before we left for our southern home we made detailed drawings of each floor, showing where each window, door and support beams were situated. This would help us when it came time to make some more important decisions. Like: where are we going to live, for one?
The winter was spent hashing over many things that we would have to face upon our return. After spending quite sometime thinking and talking about what would work the best for our future, it was decided we would make our living quarters in The Mill. With Neal’s limited time to be up and around, we knew he had to be there or he wouldn’t be able to do anything.
By the end of the winter we had drawings of our house plans, it was determined that our home would be on the third level. The main floor needed to be kept open for our museum and the lower level was like walkout basement and we had plans to reconstruct our blacksmith shop down there along with a water powered machine shop.
In the spring, upon our homecoming, we found all of our ‘precious belongings’ just as we had left them. It was a cold, hard winter and I think the vandals stayed in their warm homes and watched TV. So that was a relief to find everything all ok.
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We were so wound up as we started our first full year (1979). Our original plan was to spend our nights at our daughter Dawns house and travel to the Mill to work during the day. We soon knew we needed to be there night and day. Every few nights the ‘party people’ would come for one of their outings. We had an Open Road Mini Van which had a small kitchen, couch (that made into a bed) and a bathroom. So we started staying in it nights. When the ‘party people’ would come, Neal would call out the van window in a load, low voice, “You need to leave this property right away.” I always laughed, because it didn’t take them long to get on their way. Of course everyone thought The Old Mill was haunted, so they were feeling sort of creepy when they were there anyway. When they heard that voice and didn’t know from where it came, they were spooked and out of there in record time.
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Family, friends and neighbors came day after day and volunteered time and materials. Sometimes we would wake up in the morning and items would be on the front dock; old windows, doors, lumber, wiring--it was amazing. Some things we never did find out where they came from but it was always things we needed, and every little bit helped.
Most of our extra time that year was spent cleaning and scrubbing plus reinforcing and replacing the foundations and beams that were in the worse shape. Many doors and windows were replaced too.
Several of the flat lawn cots that have the aluminum frames were purchased. They are light weight and easy to move around. Neal could lay on one of them where ever our projects might be, to over see it and give his advice. He knew how to do most everything but was not able to be up long enough to do it because of his pain. He always made plans and drawings in the evenings and had the next days work all planed out. I always said, “He was the captain, we were the crew.”
It was surprising all the things Neal could do while lying on his back; he was always busy with one thing or another. I would always try to keep the supplies for his projects handy while he worked.
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A lawn and parking lot had to be made so we would have room for the events we had planned and all we had was a worn out old push lawn mower. In my spare time, I would go out and mow for 20 minutes or so, then to catch my breath I would work on cleaning up some of the many burn and trash piles that had been made over the years, then go back to the mowing again. After a few years we scraped together enough money to buy a used riding lawn mower. That was a happy day for me even though I was scared to death when I was driving it. It did make my life much easier!!
As time went by, the area that once had grass and weeds up to our arm pits became a nice lawn. It wasn’t a very large lawn that first year but it was a start. Each year it became a little bigger and a little bigger, at the present time there are many acres that are mowed and it does look like a park, just as it did in my vision that very first day I viewed The Old Mill.
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We did so enjoy sharing The Mill with our grandchildren. They loved to spend time with us and we loved to have them there. They would come over almost every Friday night to stay over and would be with us when we were open during the day on Saturdays. It was really togetherness when we were still sleeping in the camper. One of the kids said one night as we were settling down, “Boy, this is almost like camping out.” We got a real big kick out of that, you couldn’t get much closer to camping out as we did that first summer. We sure made a lot of wonderful memories there with the kids.
When we bought The Mill our grand children were ages: Stacey, 9; Chad and Sarah were 7 and O.J was 4 years old. There was always something to work at and we always worked hard and then played hard. I picked up an old kids size work bench at a garage sale, we fixed up a corner of our work room for them, with their own tools and etc. They spent many hours in there making airplanes and other things Grandfather would help them with. I still have some to those things as keepsakes. If at all possible, we would take Mondays off and go somewhere and do something fun and special. The kids were always included in these outings too in the summer time. Trips to museums, carnivals, state parks and concerts were some of our favorite places to go with them.
When they got older I hired them to work, when they wanted to help, just like I did the neighborhood kids. We kept track of their hours and they would many times want me to keep their money until they had enough saved up to by a new bike or stereo or TV or something else they wanted. It was most rewarding to me to see them want to save their money and get something nice with it, rather that nickel and dime it away as some of our other helpers did.
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Besides or local family members some of our main hired help with The Mill restorations were one of Neal’s cousins who worked for several summers and one of my nephews who worked for us later, on his college break for two years.
Three different summers we brought one of our grandkids back with us from Florida. They had orders from their parents that they worked for a couple hours each day for their room and board and then we paid them for what they did after that. So they had something to show for their time too. There was always someone around to do the jobs we couldn’t get to. Our Michigan grandkids were close by and were there a lot too. So it was easy to get those small jobs done, the larger ones took a little longer.
The neighborhood kids were always pounding on our door wanting to know if I was hiring. I paid them to do small jobs for me too. I always had a good time working together with them and enjoyed teaching them how to do things. I always told them, I was helping to train them for their ‘real job’ they would one day have.
It was amazing how many times people would stop in to spend an afternoon or a day or a week volunteering help. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who donated time and materials. Many times people we didn’t even know came. We have made so many wonderful, new friends. But most of all, our family had stuck by us, helping way beyond what one would ever expect.
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There was a little office on The Mills main floor. At least a hundred years of dust and dirt were on the wall and beams. After it was cleaned and then cleaned some more, it was finely ready for its new life. I brought in one of Neal’s cots for him to lie on, put up a card table and brought in some old straight chairs. I made a red and white checked cloth for the table with matching curtains for the two windows. When it was finished it became our cozy temporary Living Room, Dining room and where we entertained when our friends came to see our progress. There were a lot of them coming and going all the time. We always chuckled after they left, wondering what they were saying about us and our project. Everything was such mess at first; they must have thought we were crazy for taking on such a venture.
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When we got The Mill, we knew we needed signs to let folks know where we were at. The fact that the old building set back from the road so far, many area cars drove up and down our road day after day and never knew it was there.
One of our first purchases was two sheets of heavy plywood. One was cut into four pieces, 2’ x 4’ each, to be used for signs on the near by corners. The other was left in one piece but a special fancy edge was cut on the top and bottom to make it look exceptional. I painted them with 4 coats of a nice shade of pale yellow to make sure they would last a long time once they were up. I came up with a nice simple sketch of The Mill for one corner and Historic Bowens Mills and the hours we were open and directions painted in black on the remaining areas. It took a long time to get them all done but I was more that pleased with the results once they were finished.
The sketch of The Old Mill was what caught people’s eye. Years ago I had a teacher who repeated over and over to us, “What the eye sees leaves a lasting impression.” Folks would come and say, “I saw that picture of The Mill on your sign and I just had to come see it for myself.”
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The entrance to The Old Mill had always come in from the little town of Bowens Mills Main Street. We knew we would be having lots of traffic coming and going once we were open and the festivals started so we developed a new entrance across our field directing the traffic in from Briggs Road, which our property bordered on. That kept the hub-bub away from town.
The big sign was erected near the new drive. Deep groves were made in two heavy duty wood fence posts and the sign inserted into the groves. We took pains to do it right and make sure it was sturdy but looked nice. We thought it would stand there forever. Once it was up, we were so proud.
It wasn’t too long after it was up that I received a phone call telling me some one had written bad words across the it. The sign couldn’t be seen from The Mill so I was thankful they let me know. I felt sick. So ‘in my spare time’ I went down there with paint brushes and paint and repaired the damage. I managed to bring it back to the way it was. It made me sort of sick though, we were working day and night to try and make “The Past Live Again” and I felt crushed to have been sabotaged like this.
Several weeks later, I was returning from the Sunday Morning services at our little Bowens Mills Chapel on Main Street in our little village. As I came around the corner heading to our little trail leading to The Mill, I thought, “Something’s wrong.” My heart sank as I saw the blank place where our beautiful big sign once stood. Some one had taken our sign away.
I went right to The Mill and told Neal that it was gone and called the police. We met the police at the end of the drive. The thief had brought a sledge hammer and managed to break it loose from those big posts. It took quite a few blows to do it but they had taken it away. The only thing left were the two post and two beer bottles that were still half full. One was sitting in the drive it’s self and the other was where the sign once stood.
I knew the bottles were evidence and I knew in my heart, that the police could take them in and find finger prints and maybe find who had done this crime. But the police said, “We have no proof that whoever left these bottles here were the ones who took the sign, anyone could have left them here.” (????) When I protested his thoughts he said, “Lady, just be glad they didn’t burn The Old Mill down, then we would have something to worry about.” So, I went home with a heavy heart, feeling wounded by what had been done, as well, as the ‘I don’t care feeling’ I gotten from the policeman.
We still had one of our little signs we had made for a near by corner that had not been placed yet. For many years, it took the place of our beautiful big sign that we had spent so much time and money on.
A few years passed, by using that little sign, with the dream of replacing it with a really nice one soon, but we were always to busy and short of money to worry about it much. One day we were discussing it with a friend who was a stone mason and did cement work of all kinds. He said he would be glad to help us out and make a sign that no one could steal. That sounded good to us and we told him some ideas we had. It ended up that he constructed the huge striking replica of a Mill Stone, which now graces The Mills front entrance. The Mill Stone stands on an attractive circle of cut stone, making it a nine foot monument in all. Historic Bowens Mills is sand blasted into it. When it came time to pay the bill for his work, he charged a very small fee to do it. We were always so thankful and humbled by the way most everyone wanted to see our work do well.
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The Old Mill Stones were dusted up, as soon as I had time, along with some other relics and our collection of area history and the main floor was transformed into a museum. I fixed up a nice little cozy corner for our guest to gather and visit with us. I made a bed for Neal to lie on out of an old lumber cart that the former owners had left; we had four barrel rocking chairs that we had used in our living room at the cottage and some other old furniture that ‘fit’ in. It was not only cozy but comfortable and looked like belonged there. We opened the doors to the public Friday and Saturday afternoon each week. That gave us personal time to spend with our guest to share the history of The Old Mill and the area. I still after all these years have people tell me how much they enjoyed coming by and visiting, seeing the new (old) things we had done and learning more about the history of The Mill.
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As one enters the main floor there is an area at least 16’ x 16’ square. I made that spot into my little museum store which I called: “MARION‘S ANTIQUES AND SUCH.” I sold antiques and collectables and just about anything I could find that was interesting and maybe wouldn’t be found in everyone else’s store. An antique cash resister, old shelves and display racks fit into ‘the look’ very nicely and I made a little extra money there too. Once I didn’t need the mill office for our personal use, my store expanded into that room also.
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One of the prize processions in the area history collection is an Indian Dug canoe. We had acquired it many years before we had The Mill.
When our girls were young, in the spring, we always loved to take a ride around the trails of Yankee Springs to enjoy the woods and new life spring always brought.
Part of our trip was usually to stop in and take another look at the Indian Canoe at old Mr. Streeter’s (of Streeter’s Resort) on Gun Lake.
One of us would always go to his door to ask if it was okay that we looked at it. He would always say “Go ahead, thanks for asking, most people don’t.” So we would go out behind his garage, the old canoe was laying on two saw horses, covered with a long piece of rolled roofing. It was painted boat green. We always stood in awe as we viewed it, that it could be in such good shape, was amazing.
One year when we went to see the canoe, Mr. Streeter followed us out there. He asked us, ‘What would you do with it, if you had it.” That took us back a bit. We told him, “We would feel much honored and would take the best of care of it.” He said, “You wouldn’t sell it to an antique dealer, would you?” We said, “Oh no! It would be nice if some day we had a museum to put it in,” (never dreaming that that would really happen.) He said, “I’m going to sell it to you.” We thought, “WOW!” But said, “How much?” He gave a figure that today seems like nothing but at that time in our lives it was hard to come up with…..but we did!
Mr. Streeter told us some kids found the canoe buried in the mud in Payne Creek, not to far from where the creek dumps into Gun Lake. There was just a small part of it showing and they realized it was something and worked for three days digging it out. He bought it from the kids.
We didn’t take much time in borrowing a truck to go get it and bring it to our cottage on Gun Lake. We were very glad to get it home in one piece. Right away Neal went after the green paint and scraped it all off, revealing that it was made of a curly maple log.
It really looked good now and like it would have looked in the old days. The paint was a good thing for it though, with it being stored outside, it preserved it from the elements. It would never be stored out side again, now that we had it.
A few years back a man that was traveling all the way across the nation writing a book on Indian Dug Out Canoes got track of ours and called and wanted to come and take some pictures and do a story about it for his book. I said, “Of course.” I had it taken down from its display rack and taken outside so he could take his pictures and do some measuring and write his description. He told me in all his travels our canoe was in the very best shape of any he had seen. Many times partially rotted pieces were all that was left of some of the specimens he had recorded.
The canoe now sits in its present and final resting place, on the main floor museum at Historic Bowens Mills. Payne Creek can be heard rippling along, singing little songs about its memories of when the old canoe used its waters to travel from hunting ground to hunting ground many years ago.
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When we bought the Old Mill there was an Indian Maiden laying in the tall grass in our front yard. She was made of sand stone (from the Hanover Mines near Jackson, Michigan.) We were told she was a monument carved to honor Chief Tecumseh’s wife.
She was approximately 8 foot tall and maybe 5 foot around and needed to be on her feet. She was deteriorating there on the ground and kids had been carving large, rough looking letters on her. We knew she needed to be erected and in view for people to see. One Saturday when our son-in laws were there we decided to take on the project
The Maiden really liked lying there in the grass. She fought us all the way when we were trying to get her to stand on the foundation we had made for her.
A tractor with a lift had been borrowed, thinking it would do the job. We got her moved to where we felt she should be but getting her up onto her feet was another story. It didn’t take long to realize the tractor wasn’t going to do it. There was a good sized limb above The Maidens foundation so a ‘chain lift’ was attached to it, hoping that would help the tractor do the trick. Upon trying again, the limb begin to creak, we didn’t want to loose it, so some big long post were propped under it to take some of the strain off. Another try and she tried to get up but couldn’t quite make it. So the volunteers lined up with pry poles on each side of her. As she was raised by the tractor and chain lift a few inches at a time, the pry poles would hold her while the tractor would get a little closer and lift again. The job that we thought would take a couple of hours took most of the day.
One of the former owners of The Mill purchased the Indian Maiden from an Indian artifact collector in Battle Creek, Michigan. This is the story he told us.
After buying the monument he didn’t go to pick it up for some time. He finely got a call telling him the man he had bought her from was digging a big hole beside The Maiden and planned to roll her in and cover her up. It was raining at the time and not a good time to make the move, however, he didn’t want to take a chance on loosing her.
A friend owned a vault business so a truck was borrowed and a trip was made to Battle Creek with him. Upon trying to load her onto the truck she slipped in the mud and into her newly dug grave, breaking the loading straps.
They then had to return to Hastings for a bigger truck. By the time they got back it was dark and still raining. With flash lights they managed to get her loaded and brought her to The Old Mill. They let The Maiden slide off the truck onto the ground and she remained there for many years.
She was just waiting for us to come along and wake her up and make her get up on her feet, the way she belonged.
Neal did a lot of research on Chief Tecumseh. I got him everything I could find that I thought might help in his studies including books from the state library. There was quite a bit available. When he finished his investigations, he had come to the conclusion that maybe the monument was made for Chief Tecumseh sister instead of his wife. Neal’s reasoning was, many of the books he read talked about the Chiefs sister and rarely mentioned his wife. This is speculation on my part; however I have spoken to other knowledgeable people who feel the same way about it.
If you were standing between the maiden and the big walnut tree, you would be in front of her. You can see she truly is a lady, (no doubt about that.) She has no facial imaging (against the rules.) She has on a long dress with a belt. Tucked in the belt there is a Tommy Hawk on her right side. There is something else tucked in on the other side, I’m not sure what that is.
Just a few years ago when I was weeding the flower bed I had made around her, I discovered a date. It was way down by the bottom of her foundation. I was amazed that I had never seen it before. I knew the sculptor had inscribed it because the numbers were all finished off nicely and all the same size. The date was 1862. It was hard to believe it was made two years before The Mill was built.
The Indian Maiden has her rightful place in history right here at Historic Bowens Mills where many of our Native American People lived and used the rivers, creeks and lakes for their highways, long before there was a Yankee Springs Township and a Barry County.
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Another thing that was started that year is what we called “Old Fashion Day Festivals.” They were held on the third Saturday of the month, June through October. We had Mill tours, old time demos, live folk music, civil war camps, arts and crafts and flea markets and ect. and ect., anything I could think of to get people there. I did a lot of advertising and news releases with pictures to let it be known what was happening at old Historic Bowens Mills. The festivals caught on fast with hundreds of people coming from miles around to step into the past, for just a day. Their words of encouragement helped keep us going. We charged a small gate fee and it all helped bring in a little more money, which was always needed for materials and labor. The Old Mill had to pay its own way, just as it did in the old days.
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The Old Fashion Day Festivals were being well attended and we realized we needed an abode for our ‘gatekeeper.’ The old French Mill in Middleville was being torn down. One thing leads to another and we ended up buying the cupola that was on top of it. It was close to four foot square and had windows on each side. One of the windows was made into a Dutch Door so the gate person could stand inside and take in the gate fees when folks came to the festivals. It had to have some adjustments made but it turned out to be a bona fide piece of history ‘living again’ as it serves as our gate house.
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I soon found a lot more income was needed to finance this venture of ours. So I started giving oil painting classes. In my park in Florida, I had been taking classes for several years. I had never thought I was very artistic when it came to painting or drawing but I surprised myself with what I could do. I loved doing landscapes. When others in my park saw some of the pictures I had painted they would say, “I wish I could paint.” I would tell them to come over and I would help them. That was the first classes I gave and most of those were one on one. So, once we had returned to Michigan, I advertised “Oil Painting Classes at The Mill.” The people started frocking in. I was amazed at how many came and how I could teach them and help them come up with such nice pictures. A talent I didn’t know I had. Everyone had such a good time in class and it was very rewarding to help their dreams of painting come true.
For the next 15 years I taught three classes a week all summer. I would have a session on Monday and Wednesday mornings and one Tuesday evening. I found a wholesale place for supplies and frames and it all turned out to be a major support for all our restoration projects. We were living on disability income and never had any thing left over for extras.
I wish I had kept track of how many different people I taught over the years. It would be interesting. There would be hundreds I’m sure. Some would come and go; others would come each year and were still with me in my last class many years later.
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Not having a home now, we knew we had to fashion one out on The Mills’ third level where we had decided would be the best place for us to live. After a lot of cleaning, this area was finely ready to be made into our home. Some bats, flying squirrels and chipmunks were forced to leave first.
That first summer passed by all too swiftly, however, by fall, in our living area, we had completed a cozy family kitchen where we spend most of our free time. Originally this level was the mills; workshop and grain storage. The huge, ancient workbench and lots of other items surrounding it were moved to the fourth level.
Some of the grain storage bins had to be taken apart to make room for our home too. I found that was something I could do. Whenever I had some time I was up there with a wrecking bar and a hammer working on that. I found the wood to be very good, so as I took the bins apart I would use a saber saw and cut it to size for the wainscoting I wanted for the lower part of the family kitchen walls. One day one of my grandsons happened to be there with me as I was working on it. He said, “Nana, I didn’t know ladies could use a saw.” I showed the saw to him and said, “That bottom part right there looks just about like my sewing machine and I have used that for years, so I thought I should be able to use this too and sure enough I could.”
All the beams were left exposed. I wanted to come up with a home that looked like it belonged in our Mill. Many shelves and plate rails were added to house my salt dip and cup plate collections and many family pieces. I like to have things out where I can see and enjoy them.
Once everything was completed I furnished it with an old table and chairs that was my aunts, a hired mans bed for Neal to lie on, and a desk made of some old wood file cabinets with a wide board for the top for me. A wind-up phonograph case concealed the TV and VCR. Clean, stained bare floors with heavy large braided rugs enhanced the old time look. I was extremely delighted with the results and it looked like it had always been there.
We also “roughed in” our bathroom. It worked, which we were especially thankful for. I didn’t complain about the bare 2 by 4 walls or the blanket over the door. No more bathing in the mill stream!!!
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There were so many youngsters in the little Bowens Mills town that I decided to start my weekly “Kids Bible Club.” It was held every Tuesdays morning from 10am until 12 noon. My daughter, Carleen, helped me. It was a big hit. There was a lot of singing of songs with motions, puppet shows and a Bible Story by Granny, (my mom.) There was also lots of juice and cookies at closing time. Every week 30 – 35 kids would be lined up out side, waiting for the doors to open. Once a month we would take them on a field trip to the zoo or a park or hiking, whatever we thought they would enjoy doing. We had lots of fun and got to know the neighborhood kids at the same time.
We always tried to encourage the kids to stay on the straight and narrow and to hang out with the right crowds, live good lives and stay away from alcohol and drugs. Many of the kids didn’t receive much encouragement and love at home and needed to be told how special they were to us and God.
When we started out all the kids seemed to be about ages four years to nine or ten. As the years passed they kept getting older and I thought they would drop out but they continued to come. I then started a teen club for the older kids. Many times I would have Christian Businessmen to come and speak, giving testimony about their businesses and how they started out and how God had blessed them over the years.
It’s fun and gratifying when, years later, every now and then one of ‘my kids’ will stop by all grown up and with their families to see me. It always does my heart good to see them and hear how their lives are going.
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When autumn came and the apples were ripe, our attention turned to the antique cider press room. After days of cleaning and scrubbing, the cider press was ready to have the new (old) belts put on the huge pulleys and adjusted and re-adjusted and worked on some more and finally by mid-afternoon we saw our first cider pour out from under the huge press.
Once our day came to an end, everyone said we should have had a newspaper reporter there to write a story about the first cider making. I was sorry we didn’t think of that. I kept thinking, who could I get to do a story about it so we could share the excitement of the day with others?
The next morning when I had the TV on listening to a sermon, the preacher kept saying things about what we could do….he kept saying….”You can do it, you can do it.” That hit me right between the eyes. I sat down with a piece of paper and pen and words started coming. And this is what I wrote:
CIDER FLOWS FROM ANTIQUE PRESS…..
“It’s exciting to live in a mill,” one of the grandchildren was overheard saying. “Such cool things happen.” This was the feeling felt by all who were present as the time drew near to start pulling the levers to set the huge pulleys in motion to make the first cider in many years at Bowens Mills. It was just a year ago since Neal and I bought the old 1864 grist and cider mills and now family and friends have gathered for this eventful day.
The question was, “Will the gigantic old relic ever work?” After all, the cider press was brought to the location by Mr. Bowen in 1902 and it was not new then.
The old timers tell how it was always so busy every fall and how the horses with wagons full of apples were lined all the way back into town, waiting their turn at the press….Oh how good that first glass of cider must have tasted! But that was many years ago and the cider mill has not been used in well over 20 years.
Weeks of cleaning and preparation have passed….the racks are put into place, the last belt goes on, and the final drops of oil added.
On the day of our maiden venture into the cider making process, the men have been working in the area since dawn, and it’s hard to lure them to the breakfast table. Finally, the aroma of bacon and eggs and all the trimmings that the gals have prepared tempts them to the table and everyone is rounded up. All join hands and hearts to ask the Lords blessing on the food and the day.
Twenty- eight file past the food table and fill their plates high and find places to sit around the museum area. Spirits are high and there is much laughing and joking. Breakfast is consumed in record time and suddenly the men are back in the press room.
At last---much later than planned---everything is in order. It has been most rewarding to watch the combined efforts of both young and old as they labor together. There is no generation gap here. Last minute details have been checked and rechecked and hopefully everything is ready to go.
Clark Springer---son of E.D. Springer, a former owner of the mill is on hand and quietly directs the operation. The cider press is circled by a hopeful and anxious group. All are silent and hearts are beating faster.
Springer pulls the proper levers and the rumble and rattle of the huge overhead pulleys fill the mill. Cheers and whistles are heard over the roar.
The first apples are dumped into the conveyor and are carried up into the grinder. As the apples zip past the sharp knives, the juice seeps out and an intriguing fragrance fills the air….more cheers.
Soon the huge press raises and the racks of ground apples wrapped in blanket cloths are rolled into place. The press slowly lowers and cider rushes out….more cheers.
Excitement fills the room as well as a feeling of awe and reverence. It is as if we have for a moment, stepped into the past. We feel a kinship with Mr. Bowen. We share with him the joy and pride he must have felt on his first day at the press.
Suddenly, someone grabs a glass and fills it with the clear amber juice---before it runs into the wooden barrel below. It is passed from Neal to me and then to Mr. Springer for the first sample. How sweet it is!
Soon the day is so over and everyone is tired, but exuberant, over the accomplishments of the day. A day not one of us will ever forget.
Someone was heard saying as they all were leaving for their homes, “Boy, it’s surprising how hard you have to work to have so much fun!”
The Past Lives Again at Historic Bowens Mills.
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The next morning I took my story to The Reminder in Hastings, Michigan and gave it to them. When I got home I had a call telling me they were sending out a photographer to get some pictures that afternoon.
I had all my grandchildren there, so when Elaine came she took pictures of us all around the different places in the cider mill. We were delighted when the paper came out that week that we got our picture was the front page and a full page story with four more pictures were inside.
I was pretty thrilled. It was my first attempt at writing a news release and it was printed word for word. I could never guess how many others articles I have written over the next 20 years.
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As I look back now, that first year was something else! At the time I was so excited about “Our Mill” I hardly noticed how dirty or tired I would get each day.
As I would lie in bed at night, thinking about the things we had accomplished that day and what we would do ‘tomorrow,’ sometimes the Old Mill would creak and moan and I would wonder if it was trying to tell me something. If only it could really speak, there were so many things I would like to know about its past. I always wondered if Mr. Bowen was as excited and thrilled about his Mill as I was ours.
What a tiring, rewarding year! I looked forward to six months rest at our Florida home.
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Upon returning from Florida for our second season (1980) we were rested and excited and ready to get back and to pick up where we had left off. We started working right away on completing our living quarters. Before we even started on this project, I had made up my mind, we would only do one room at a time and not start another one until every thing was finished in the area we were working on. I didn’t want a lot of unfinished rooms to deal with.
The first thing on my ‘to do’ list was too complete the bathroom which I didn’t think would take to long, as the worst of it was done before we left for our winter retreat. Of course, everything always took much longer that I had planned but was worth the time spent once it was completed. It was especially nice to have a door on it, when there were so many workers and painting students coming and going, we never knew when someone would happen by just when you needed to be by yourself! Our helpers put in the insulation and then the wall board, once again leaving all the big support post exposed. A closet housed the washer and dryer and had lots of shelves were all hide behind the louvered doors.
Then it was my turn. The thing that took me the longest I think, was the wall papering. I made the big mistake of choosing a paper that had a tiny stripe. It was very pretty and really had a great look for the room. The post and beams looked all ok and straight enough just to glance at them but when I started trying to make those stripes match up and be straight it just wasn’t working. The old building had warped and sagged over all the countless years. The stripes would look okay and straight on one post but by time I got to the next one it was kiddy wampest. I finely figured out that if I did a lot of measuring I could put up a strip by one post, then go to the next post across the wall and do another strip by that, so that they were going towards each other, working from side to side, they would soon come together in the middle. That minimized where the stripes came together and I could live with that. I then hung a long wall hanging or picture over where they came together to break up the (un) matching stripes a little and I was okay with the way it turned out. It was a long drawn out procedure but looked quite striking once it was completed.
Once the walls were done I started working on the floors. I scrubbed them numerous times to remove over a hundred years of dirt and grime, then stenciled a nice border around the outside. After putting on several coats of wax they looked impressive. I was able to once again obtain the look I wanted….like it had always been there.
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Everything always took so long to accomplish, I never had very much time to work on ‘my things’, with all the other stuff that was going on around there and all the decisions I had to be constantly making on the restorations. So I was pretty relived when the bathroom was finely all finished and I could move on to the next adventure, which was the living room.
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My helpers had been working on getting the walls insulated and the wall board on in the living room while I was working on the bathroom. As soon as they were finished I went shopping for wall paper. Upon realizing the “stenciled-look” paper I wanted for my living room would cost more than $400 and was way beyond my means, after much thought, I decided to try and stencil the walls myself (just like they did in the old days when the wallpapers cost so much.) Stencils and paints were not available back then as they are today. After spending a lot of time looking at many of my Early American Living magazines, I finely chose an old Moses Eaten pattern that I found a picture of and liked. Moses Eaten was a very well known person who in the old days went around from home to home stenciling walls for the pioneer folks who couldn’t afford wall coverings. At that time the wall papers were all imported and very expensive.
I decided upon his pineapple pattern, which is the symbol of hospitality, so that was perfect. It was one of his most renowned patterns. The walls were painted white and then Neal cut the stencils from sheets of mylar for me. I experimented with several kinds of paints and finally came up with an effect I liked. The pineapples were about one foot tall and always done in a dark navy with a deep wine for the leaf part. There was a little medallion type strip between each row of the pineapples.
In the old days they used to just start painting in one corner of the room and go on to the next corner, maybe ending with a part of a pattern. I couldn’t seem to bring myself to end abruptly with an unfinished pineapple so I started measuring again and came up with a plan where I could make it ‘fit’.
I then started painting. My stenciling was pretty slow going, I had to be very careful that I didn’t let the paints run or smear on the white background. The stencils had to be washed and dried completely after doing each pineapple. All the blues had to be done and dried before I could start on the wines. I began to think I would never get it all done but about a month later (and less than $20.00), the living room was handsomely done and remains so today. When it was finished I was very glad that I couldn’t afford the wall paper that I thought I wanted, this was much more appealing.
I chose to leave the post and beams and 12 foot ceiling exposed. More plate rails were built, using old lumber which we had purchased from someone that was demolishing an old building. This made a great place to display family pieces and other lovely miscellaneous antique dishes. An added brick wall that wrapped around a corner covering about five foot on each wall made a nice back drop for the pot bellied wood stove, which kept us nice and cozy on cool evenings. Antique furniture completed the quaint but comfortable room.
When our friends came to visit and saw my living room for the first time, they are amazed at the transformation and that was very rewarding for me.
The view of The Mill Pond from the living rooms, nine over six pane windows, was always breath taking with its perfect reflections below.
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Whenever there was an extra few minutes available the guys would be spending it on restoring the water power area of The Old Mill. There was much to do there. Some pieces were gone, others were found here and there. It was like putting a gigantic puzzle together. We definitely did not have the time we had hoped for or expected to have, to work down there.
The old turbine had been turned by hand, so we knew it would work. The Watergate had been freed up and repaired, an old wood bearing had been replaced, and the vertical steel shafting realigned. A trash rack had been added in front of the penstock (dam) so there wouldn’t be any surprises with something drifting into the turbine and causing trouble. Keyways were welded where they were broke or rusted away. It was so close, yet we could not rush; we could not and would not chance breaking some irreplaceable parts.
The Mill Stream tries to comfort us as it sings on,” I’ve waited 40 years, I can wait a little longer.” We tell ourselves “Soon the pressing things will be done and we’ll have more time….”
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The cider time festivals were well attended again this year and many of the new friends we had made in the past year returned, we sold lots of cider. This time of year we had more money coming in to help pay the insurance and taxes, which was a great help!!!
It was a busy season and of course we didn’t get as much done as we had hoped, but we never did. All in all I felt good about the way things went!
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Year number three, (1981) I again spent as much of my time as I could working on the rest of our living area. Many times I had to have advertising and calendar of events out months before our festivals, giving us many dead lines that were sometimes hard to keep. This was one. I had planned to have our living quarters ready for an ‘open house’ at the August Festival.
In the beginning we had planned to do the work on the restorations with no dead lines, remember? Finishing up our living quarters was one of the many, many dead lines we had trouble keeping, however, one way or another, we always ended up getting the projects done on time.
Finishing off the bedroom was the next thing in line. We had been sleeping on the hide-a-bed in the family kitchen all this time so we were ready for a bedroom!
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Do to the fact that I had advertised we would be holding the ‘open house’ of our newly completed living area; we were on a big push. It was decided we would hire a ‘real carpenter’ which would hopefully relieve us of some of the stress of getting the bedroom work done. Because of our money situation we had never thought we could afford a real one before, but we were desperate because of our dead line. Restorations are so different than work on new construction. Because of the way The Old Mill had sagged and settled over the years, it was impossible to use a square or level, everything had to be done to fit the way it was. Our carpenter assured us he knew all about how to go about it. It didn’t take to long to realize he had no idea what he was doing. What we wanted him to do was put in the closet walls and its door and make it look like it had always been there. It was almost as much work keeping track of him and making sure he was doing it right than if we had had one of our kid helpers do it. It finely got done, some of the stuff had to be redone (after he left) to make it look right, but knew there wouldn’t be any more work done by a ‘real’ carpenter.
Once again, beams and ceilings were worked around and left exposed. Appropriate wall-covering was added and it was just as big a job as the bathroom was only more so because the room was so much bigger. Plate rails were added again all the way around the room for my pitcher collection. Our bedroom set had been in storage waiting for us to be ready for it.
What a joy to again have a bedroom!!! All in all, once again, it turned out really nice and I was more than happy with the results.
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One thing I didn’t expect to get done that year was the upstairs hall and the stairway. The helpers were working on that while I worked on the wallpapering. I got some really old looking wall paper for that area. Somehow that got done too. so then with Carleen’s help we started in on that. It was hard to believe that we got something done that wasn’t ’on my list’.
There was a nice room way in the back of our living quarter’s floor that had three windows which faced the south and west. It was a very light pleasant room. A work area was put together there. Work benches and Neal’s tools were put in place there along with a bed for him to lay so he would be near his tools and could get things he needed without being up that long. It was a nice place for us to work on small things. Bookcases were built all along one wall in that room, it was nice to get the books out of the boxes and where they were stored so we could get to them.
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After all the rush and last minute things to get ready for our Festivals we were delighted to have our first open house and share our living quarters with our friends, both new and old. I had young tour guides in each room (granddaughters, nieces and neighborhood kids) all dressed up in old fashion looking clothes to guide our guest through. Free tickets were given out as the folks came so they didn’t have to stand in line because I didn’t want over eight people in a room at a time. While waiting, the guest could look over the museum and Neal would share The Mills history with them, so the time didn’t seem so long.
Hundreds of people passed through and expressed their amazement of our transformation. It was rewarding to see the looks of astonishment on their faces as they returned to the museums level. Somehow, all the work, sweat, frustrations and deadlines seemed worthwhile now. Many of the guest would tell the folks that were waiting that it was well worth the wait.
It was always hard for me to get past the windows when I was going from room to room. I did so enjoy the view, from those upstairs windows, looking down on The Mill Pond and its reflections. Even though the old glass was pretty wavy, it was always breathtaking, both day and night. Many times at night the stars could be seen reflected in the ponds still waters.
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We still needed more income we were doing so very much more than we had ever imagined we would. I got the idea just before the cider festivals that we should make a little kitchen there in the Cider Mill area and sell fresh baked apple pies and apple dumplings.
Right away some sliding windows were added to be used as a counter to sell out of. Then we put in a make shift work bench with two ovens under it. We bought a cheap used refrigerator and freezer and we were ready. I called it “The Cider Mill Café.” It didn’t cost hardly anything to put together and it really brought in the money.
While our guest were there watching the cider being made they were also seeing the apple dumplings and pies coming out of the ovens and smelling the awesome aroma. They just couldn’t wait to have some. Our specialty was a “Super Apple Dumpling.” It was a hot dumpling with a huge dip of ice cream covered with caramel and nuts. We also sold hot and cold cider by the cup and fresh baked donuts, ice cream sundays (made from ice cream and apple dumpling drippings) and apple dumpling shakes. People would gladly stand in line waiting for one of those extraordinary apple dishes. Every year there were those who would come, pay their gate fee and buy a Super Apple Dumpling, sit at one of the picnic table by the Old Mill Stream, eat it and then go home.
The Cider Mill Café became a huge source of income for us. I hired neighborhood kids to help me in the cafe and we had a great time working together. I would have probably 4 kids lined up at the counter, one would take orders and the others would quickly be putting the orders together. I tried to not tie myself to any certain job so I could step in and help where ever I was needed. Our ‘record’ day of selling apple dumplings was, 44 dozen on one weekend plus what ever apple pies and other items that were available but the apple dumplings were the big sellers. 44 dozenx12=528 dumplings. We were open 5 hours each day so that would equal about 52 dumplings each hour. However, we were never very busy the first hour, so that really made us rush, rush, rush the rest of the time. All the while I kept baking more, making sure we would not run out. I think if we had I would have had a riot on my hands. We were all breathless when closing time came. But we had fun along the way too.
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Now at last, the “pressing” things were done and our full attention is turned to the turbine and water power. We have moved along slowly, purposely—trying to do everything just right to avoid problems. We were ecstatic when we were finely ready to open The Mills’ Watergate. The gears began to creak and crack and groan and suddenly turn for the first time in 40 years. Our shouts of joy could be heard for blocks around., I’m sure.
Imagine our despair when we opened the Watergate a few days later and it was purring along as nicely as can be, then, all of the sudden there was a horrible thug. The Old Mill shuddered. The water power stopped! Our hearts skipped a beat, what could it be? Words cannot begin to express how we felt at that moment.
We knew something bad had happened, but had no idea what it could be. It was too late in the season for repairs, so another year had passed and still no corn meal grinding!
Even though we were we discouraged….we vowed...”This may slow us down-but we will not give up!!!
We headed off to Florida that fall with heavy hearts, not knowing what to expect upon our return.
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Our fourth season (1982) was another busy one. I don’t know what ever happened to the idea we could do things at our own pace and not have any deadlines. I was never sorry that we bought The Old Mill but by now I am wondering had I known then what I know now….would I still have pushed it to make that same decision.
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We were pretty proud of the change that took place on the outside of The Mill that year. There was a lot of siding that needed to be replaced and it had not been painted for 50 years, so it was badly needed. It took longer and cost more to get ready to paint then it did to paint it. Over the years, the vandals, rodents and the elements had taken their toile. A whole lot of the cedar siding had to be replaced which was both time consuming and expensive. I hired a man who had what he called a cherry picker, a crane looking thing with a bucket he could stand in and get around. It was no small task, with The Old Mill being four stories tall. In the old days, it was done with scaffolds. Oh my……..
Once the repairs were finished it didn’t take long to spray paint the main part of the building, however, the trim was a different story. The trim and cells of 29 windows and 7 doors had to be carefully painted white.
The Old Mill did look a whole lot taller and a whole lot prouder with its new coat of deep wine colored paint and its new white trim.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Another one of the projects we did that year was finishing off the floors in The Mills lower level. Some of the neighborhood kids that were working for us got a chance to help with that too. It was a job! It was mostly a dirt floor and the flood waters of the broken dam in 1943 had made a mess of them. Some areas were a good three-foot higher than the others. Most of the dirt had to be taken out in a wheel barrel, it took weeks to get it leveled out. There was so much of our ‘stuff’ in way too, that it was hard to work. It had to be done in patches. Some of the ‘stuff’ would be piled to the ceiling to get it out of the way. The floor could then be leveled cement pored. Then we would try to put only the things back in that new area that would be there permanently once the job was finely finished.
At long last, the water powered machine shop was set up and ready for the craftsmen to work.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Someone we knew was tearing down some old building in the near by town of Hastings. He said we could have all the bricks we wanted from that. Day after day we would go over there and pick up bricks and pile them in rows in the van to take back to The Mill. Carleen, Sarah and O.J. got in on helping me with that too. Heavy leather gloves had to be worn to protect our hands. But by the time we had enough bricks to do what we wanted to, my thumb joints were so swollen and sore that I could hardly make them work right. I still have trouble with them to this day.
At last the bricks were finely all transported and ready to be used to make an incredible floor in The Blacksmith Shop. We also used them to build the forge and chimney and the brick wall upstairs by the pot belly stove. They looked superb and like they had been there forever, once it was finished. It was great to have everything in order down there instead of the jungle. It was always impossible to find anything that we needed if it was in that area.
The Blacksmith and Brass Foundry Shops were put together and in operation before the year was over too. Of course it was another deadline again; it had to be ready of our next “Old Fashion Day” festival.
* * * * * * * * * *
Every spare moment that Neal was able to be up was spent down in the turbine area trying to find out what ever it was that had broken.. I always made it a point to be down there with him too. Of course, with my being so anxious about everything, I always wanted to be sure all the bases were covered, in case of trouble. It was quite a job getting those old square nuts off which were holding the turbine lid in place. After all, they had no doubt been on there since it was put in place way back when the Civil War was raging and Abe Lincoln was still alive.
What a relief, when it was finely opened, to find the turbine was all okay. Everything in that area was basically all right. What had happened was, a piece of wood, which looked much like a piece of fire wood, had been buried in 40 years of silt, in the penstock. It had washed out and into the power section. (We thought we had covered all the bases there too, but we missed that one piece of wood.) It stopped the turbine so fast that it twisted the main four inch shaft off at the top of the bearings! Talk about power…wow!
The repairs were mostly made but the final assembly was not completed until our ‘joyful day’ in the fall, when at last The Old Mill was finely in operation again.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Once more we felt a deeper kinship with Mr. Bowen and a new respect for the workmen of the 1864 era, while we were handling that massive equipment. Everything is so enormous and heavy, it was hard to believe that they could do all the things they did not having any electric or tractors or cranes to help them out, as we do today.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Every year the ‘The Cider Time” season has been growing and the excitement of turning bushels and bushels o apples into gallons and gallons of fresh sweet cider never leaves us.
As another year draws to an end, I am very thrilled about the progress we have made but I am more than ready for the return to our winter home in Florida. I need some ‘down time.’ Even though I will be many miles away, my heart is always at Historic Bowens Mills and my mind is constantly scheming and planning for the next season at The Old Mill and all the things that need to be accomplished towards its restoration.
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By the time our fifth season (1983) rolls around I realize we were no longer in control of these restorations projects.
We couldn’t stop!! We couldn’t?? Or we wouldn’t???
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That spring an old ‘Gun Lake Lap Strake Boat’ was donated to us. It was one of the historic steam boats made by one of the old fishing guides that use to cruised Gun Lake in the early 1900’s. As far as we could find out it was one of three that had survived over the years of disuse. It was a very unique boat and had a lot of area history included with it. It was 18 foot long but there was just one problem, it had laid on the ground for years so there was a rotted spot 18 foot long and about three foot wide on its side. Oh my…..
There was no cedar siding to be found that was 18 foot long. After lots of phone calls, a special piece of plywood 18 foot long and near to the right thickness was ordered. With some planning, we would make that work and after it was painted, no one would be the wiser. It took some doing to get the boards steamed and bent but once they were finely made to fit, in the end, it worked just as we had hoped it would.
It was always surprising how much longer it would take to get our jobs done then we would have planned. I would have Neal’s cot near the projects so he could over see everything and make sure it was done right but it always seemed we were rushing to meet our deadlines.
Once all the restoration was done on the boat, it was launched and christened “The Winn-Mill” in a grand ceremony. It used, with pride, for many years to take folks for rides on the Mill Pond. The view of The Mill and its reflection were spectacular from the boat rides.
The name, “Winn-Mill” was a play on words, ‘Winn’ was the mans first name who built the boat and ‘Mill’ was for The Old Mill.
It was a thrill for me to see “The Past Lives Again” in this, another piece of area history.
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In September, The Mills top floor was open for the first time. I was now going to have the much needed art gallery to teach my classes in. That floor was quite a challenge; it had been a place to put just anything that we didn’t know what else to do with for years. Nothing was ever thrown away. How did we know if we might need it? You can’t just go down to the hardware and buy parts for an old mill, you know.
After a lot of stashing of all the things we had stored up there and a lot of cleaning it was finely ready for me to use for my oil painting classes. This would make my life a whole lot easier. When my art gallery came to life up there, I had lots of room for my students. I now didn’t have to set up tables for each class and take them all down again after class. The gallery was just there waiting for me. What a blessing!!!
I had lots and lots of students by this time. It was so good to be able to just go up there and teach. In the past, I was teaching on The Mills main museum floor and I would have to set up tables for classes then take them down when we had tours coming in (which was most everyday) so it really kept me hopping.
The room was perfect for painting with lots of natural light with its five big windows and long florescent lights had been installed over the tables.
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There was lots of room up there and it was finely, very pleasant to have a place of ‘my own.’ The work room on the third level was to be ‘our’ work shop; however, whenever I tried to use it, my stuff always seemed to be in the way and etc. Now I more room than I knew what to do with and I could use the student’s tables for my workbenches to work on. I was overjoyed.
In one little corner I make an office, so I was able to get away from it all when I had a news release to write or advertisements to create. It was great to have a place for all the office supplies I needed and not have them hid all over the place in the living quarters. That was wonderful!
In another area up there, I created an old fashion sewing room all built around my grandmothers treadle sewing machine. I had an antique dress form with a dress from the civil war era on it and some other very old dresses lying around. Then, there was a trunk with old quilts hanging out of it, a sewing chair and old fabric in storage boxes sitting around it. All kinds of things like that to make it look real. I was happy with the effect and my guest thought it was pretty neat.
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A loft about 12’ x 24’ was added across one end, to house the recreation of the old workshop which was originally on the third level and had to be moved to make room for our living quarters. Below the loft was another story. There was loads of equipment that there was no room for else where. I was okay with that for the time being but I had plans to eventually making that area into a cobblers shop and display many items that would come to live in it.
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Our cider time festivals seem to be growing and growing each year. We are now pressing over 100 bushels of apples each week. The yield of cider equals about 3 gallons per bushel. It seems impossible that we could sell that much cider each week but we did. Sometimes running out before the week was out.
A good share of our goods were sold on our Saturdays when we were pressing. However, for the week day sales, I had also set up a little ‘self serve market’ on the front dock of the mill with a box for buyers to put their money in. I dragged out an old set of shelves and loaded them down with jars of apple butter, baskets of apples and etc. Also, a refrigerator was added so folks could come and buy cider anytime during the week and help themselves. It proved to be very successful.
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It has been another demanding year, full of activity; nevertheless, again, there is much fulfillment in all the restorations that have taken place.
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1984 (our sixth year,) was one more gigantic year for us. The only house the Bowens ever built came up for sale. It joined The Mill property on two sides. We felt it would be a good thing to once again have it be a part of The Mills’ 17 acres and history. Old timers told us the 13 room Victorian Home was a show place in the community ‘in its day.’ Updating and remodeling and aluminum siding had taken away its former grandeur.
The big problem was, we were in Florida and we needed to make an offer long before we would be returning. Could we buy it un-sight and un-seen? Upon asking our daughter and son-in-law, Carleen and Owen Sabin, and my sister and brother-in-law, Gaye and Russ Patterson to look at it for us and take pictures, we got this report. “It will be a real challenge but after seeing what you have done for The Mill, we know you can do it and would be disappointed if you didn’t buy it.” They felt it would be a real asset for us.
An offer was made and accepted; we owned what we now call “The Bowen House.” Before we knew it, there was another refurbishment venture on our hands.
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It was a pretty moving experience upon our return, to see the work that lay ahead of us now, with this an additional restoration mission to add to the many others.
Of course, there would be ‘no’’ deadlines for it to be done….???? Right….????
The first couple of years that we had The Bowen House were spent just trying to get things in order. A commercial dumpster was full every week just cleaning up the yard and other things that needed to be taken care of. I always tried to get up there every afternoon after my classes to spend some time. I made sure that dumpster was full of debris each week, before they came to empty it. There was so much to do and so little time to work on it. I keep wondering what have we done now???
The house was a typical farm house style; the rooms were all pretty large, which was nice. The Living room is about 17’x30’ and has a nice fireplace. The kitchen is about the same size. The parlor is 14’x14’. There were two smaller bedroom down stairs (which we made into two bathrooms) and four bedrooms upstairs. At the back of the house there is a nice Fourier, a shower room and laundry. The basement is large and divided into three rooms but much of it was dirt floor. Which we were able to have cemented after a few years.
The upstairs had never had anything done to it. It even had the original wall paper which was hard to believe. The downstairs and been remodeled and remuddled over the years. A lot of the walls had been covered with the 4’x8’ sheet of paneling which was so popular for a while in the ‘60’s.
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Another project we took on that summer was building a bridge. We needed a way to get to the other side of the creek where we would one day recreate the old water wheel which was on that end of The Mill in the old days. We were tossing ideas around about how it should be, just a common bridge, a hump back or maybe a covered bridge. What should it be? We finely decided on a covered bridge. We couldn’t do something simple; we had to go all the way.
A covered bridge now crosses over ‘The Old Mill Stream.’ The Village Lattice-style was built in memory of the bridge that once crossed the Thornapple River in Middleville. It is about one-third size.
The Bridge turned out to be and attractive addition and is an impressive place to view the old mill stream, a breathtaking position to take pictures and many weddings have been taking place there, using it for a back drop. It was defiantly worth all the effort it took to get it done.
It was named ‘The Big M’ bridge, the reason being: It crossed the old Mill Stream, much of the lumber was from the French Mill in Middleville and was donated by Mike and my name is Marion. What else could we name it?
The bridge was dedicated and the ribbon cut on our August Old Fashion Day Festival. News releases were sent out telling of the event. I encouraged people of all ages to come. The oldest person and the youngest person there would be the first to walk across once the ribbon was cut. Plenty of people showed up. There was lots of enthusiasm in the air, waiting to see who would be the first. Our friend Al spoke some words of dedication along with a prayer.
I then proceeded to find who would be the first to walk cross. Someone was there with a baby about one year old and was just learning to walk. He insisted Mom walk with him. So away they went hand in hand. They received a lasting hand clap upon their return. The little guy looked around trying to figure out why everyone was so excited. Then a search went out for the oldest one there. Mike’s uncle was among the guest and told us he was 94 years old. It was then his turn to walk across and back. He also received a round of applause.
It was a perfect day and I once again felt it was worth it all, when I saw the delighted looks on our visitor faces.
THE BIG M BRIDGE is now listed on the log of ‘The Covered Bridges of America.’ Covered Bridge lovers come by from all over to see it and take pictures.
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Our yard keeps getting bigger and bigger. This year we opened up the rest of the yard between The Mill and The Bowen House. That was a big undertaking. There were many wild Black Berry Bushes and lots of Sumac Bushes that had to be removed first. It took several weeks to complete. It certainly did look great when it was finished though!
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I always had lots of live old time music playing each of the days of our Old Fashion Days Festivals. Some people came with their lawn chairs and would just sit all afternoon and listen to that as if that was all that was happening. I really enjoyed listening to those old songs ringing out over the grounds even though I had to listen as I was hurrying here and there trying to keep everything running smooth.
Getting ready for our Festivals kept me busy, I always tried to have some new restorations to share with our visitors when they came.
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In our seventh year (1985)…A very pleasant personal highlight during that summer was when our daughter and son-in-law, Carleen and Owen Sabin, and their children, Sarah and O.J. moved to Bowens Mills. They were to be the caretakers of the Bowens House and would help with the many other projects. The grandkids were always glad to run errands and when we had tours they were a great help also.
Due to the fact that I had been having ‘Kids Bible Club’ once a week throughout the each summer and Carleen helping me with that, the move was made easier for the grandkids. There were always at least 30 to 35 kids flocking in so they were well acquainted with the neighborhood kids.
We kept a pretty busy schedule, Owen worked nights (11pm to 7am) so they would come down and help Neal mornings, then we would have our noon meal together, usually a picnic by the pond or creek. I was tied up many mornings, teaching my classes on Monday and Wednesday and Bible Club was on Tuesdays. Carleen and I always went for supplies all day Friday so our days were pretty full.
Work was started on the renovation of The Bowen House right after they moved in. There was old dark blue indoor-outdoor carpet that had been glued onto the huge (17’ x 30’) living room floor. When I pulled up some of the carpet in one of the corners, oak flooring was revealed. It was hard to believe! Oak floors would be covered up with cheap carpeting. Carleen and I worked for days getting that old carpet and all the glue up to expose gorgeous hardwood floors. After some sanding and putting an oil finish on them, they were stunning.
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The Old Mill Pond had been a place where kids had swam for years and years. Not being comfortable about the possibility of someone getting hurt or drowning, it was decided that the only time we would let the kids swim was when we girls, (Carleen and I,) would take a break in the afternoon from 2:00pm to 3:00pm. We would invite all the neighborhood kids to come swim in The Mill Pond for that hour. I bought plenty of tubes and all kinds of things for them to have fun with. So they had a ball.
There would up to thirty of them sometimes. We worked the buddy system and used whistles and counted heads to make sure they were all okay. It was fun for all of us and they played hard and were worn out and ready to come in when their hour was up.
One time we even worked up a ‘water ballet’ to some special music. They worked up all kinds of special motions and tricks to do in tune with the music. All the parents were invited to a pot luck dinner and “The Water Show” one night. Everyone showed up and we all had such a good time we thought we would do it again and again. The swimming continued but we never got around to doing another show or pot luck.
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Evenings would find us in our family kitchen, Neal doing his reading and drawings and studying, me at my desk working on ads, news releases and scheduling for the festivals.
When the fall came and it was time to return to our winter retreat we were ready. When we left, our hearts stayed there at The Mill. We prayed every night that it wouldn’t be broken into or vandalized and it wasn’t.
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In 1986 a barn was moved to the grounds. Owen had a team of Belgium Horses which he was boarding at a near by neighbors barn. We had the land for a pasture but no fence and no barn. So we really needed a barn for those horses.
It was in the winter again when we were in Florida and got a call from Carleen and Owen telling us that some people we knew were taking down an old barn and planed to use it for fire wood. We encouraged Owen to see if he could make a deal with him.
After Owen talked to the owner of the barn he found that it was over 100 years old. When he offered to buy the fellow some ‘real’ fire wood in trade for the barn, the neighbor gladly agreed and the transaction was made. In the spring the barn was taken apart piece by piece and brought home. When the stone foundation was done, it was put back together again piece by piece.
It sounds so simple now as I sit here writing it down. It was a job and a half though, but the horses now have their own home. It has been added on to several times now and many other animals are enjoying its shelter.
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Carleen and I kept working on The Bowen House, we cleaned and scrubbed, painted and papered. We were trying to bring back some of its former charm while the men were busy on the barn.
Of course the guys helped too whenever we needed them. By our August Old Fashion Day Festival we had three rooms restored and opened them for tours.
People love to go through those old homes.
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In our spare time Neal and I assembled our Coopers (barrel making) Shop in The Mills’ lower level. Most all mills had a Coopers Shop in them, where they made the barrels to sell or ship the flour in. There was a nice little area down by the water power area that turned out to be the perfect place for it.
We had been collecting anything we could find that had anything to do with cooper’s tools and had quite a lot of stuff. I white washed the walls first, then, hung many of the tools on them. I had picked up a little old work bench at a garage sale and a wood working vice and a pretty good collection of odd and ends of barrels, both large and small. This all added to the quaintness of the little shop.
I was still putting on the finishing touches at 2:30am the morning of the Festival, that I had advertised we would be dedicating it. I was really dragging my tail feathers by then, but it was such a delightful addition to The Mill when it was done that it was worth it all. Neal was so proud and happy with the way it turned out too.
On every festival date, I would have a craftsman down there demonstrating and explaining how the different tools worked for our guest to learn from.
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In October we had our first annual Civil War reenactment, which was a real colorful activity with its North and South encampments. There were two battles and lots of people to enjoy that.
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The summer of 1987 we redid three rooms in the upstairs of The Bowen House. All hard work but rewarding to see the progress there and know the restorations are slowly being completed. .
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THE PLANK HOUSE…..An old house had been donated to us. We spent quite a bit of time moving and restoring what we now call 'The Plank House.' When the house was donated we did not realize how old it was or how rare a structure it was.
The reason it was called a 'Plank House' is because it was made of three inch planks which were notched together, log cabin style and wooded pegs were also used to keep the planks in place and make the house stronger.
Upon dating the structure we found it was built in the 1840s or earlier.
We searched this out using what is called a 'witness tree.' By using a piece of one of the houses timbers that has bark on at least two sides from the foundations, the growth rings could be matched up with the growth rings on the witness tree. A witness tree is a slab of wood that has been cut from a huge tree from the same area that the house log is from that has been dated. The house could be older because we found by our studies it had been taken apart and moved at least once. Many time new foundation timbers are used when a building is being moved.
When we looked at this project we thought, “This won’t be that hard a job.”
Once we got started jacking it up, to put skids under it, which it would be moved on, we discovered that much of its main timbers had rotted away. It couldn’t be moved like that. Meaning, finding the right materials and a major restoration job must take place before the building could be moved.
After the timbers had been replaced the house was raised, the skids were put under it. We were ready for the move! A lot of our friends were in on this big move too.
One neighbor thought once the house was up on the skids it could be moved by pulling it with a tractor. Wrong! It couldn’t be budged. He sent his son home to bring another bigger tractor. Wrong again!
The house would not give an inch, even being pulled with two big tractors. Then they tried pushing with a bobcat while the tractors pulled also. That effort helped them move it a few feet but not very far.
By then everyone was worn out, so we all went home thinking we would have to come up with another idea somehow.
Well, we had an old friend who had a big bull dozer. Upon giving him a call on the phone, I told him what we were up against. He said, “Get your tractors and bobcats out of the way and I will be over in the morning with my bull dozer and move that baby for you.” That sounded good to us but we were wondering by then if anything could move it.
Morning came and along came our friend with his big bulldozer and sure enough he hooked on to the old house and dragged it to its new home. Not without a struggle though.
The house faced north on its old foundation. I wanted it to face west to meet our needs on The Mill property. This forced us to make a big circle, so as to swing it around to face its new location. Many years ago our fields were used as an old pickle patch. It had small ditches through out the field used for irrigation, so that meant the house was constantly being heaved up and down on its journey. It started to slide off the skids numerous times and they would unhook the bull dozer and push it back onto them again. What seemed like should be a half hour job turned out to take a good share of the day.
Finely, it was at its new location. Everyone agreed, had it been a normal house and not a ‘Plank House’, with the treatment we had to give it in the move, it would have been tooth picks. No windows were broken and there was furniture inside and nothing even tipped over on the move.
We did a lot of stone laying, making the foundations for the old house being top on the list. When we brought the house to our grounds we put it just to the south of where it would stand when the basement and foundation was done.
We always wanted to get the neighborhood kids in on our projects so they could learn how they used to do things in the old days. Many of them were invited to come and work awhile as we were working on it. They each had a chance to lay some stones and they also each wrote a message, which they put in a jar and is somewhere there in that basement cement work.
After the walls were done, which took some time, the kids were all there when the house was to be rolled onto it’s stonewall foundation. Each one had a part in that project too. They were amazed that one person could move that big, heavy house as they turned the cranks which rolled it to its new home.
Many times when we were moving something big and heavy we would use large pipes and roll it where we wanted it to be. The Plank house was surly big and heavy. Bigger and heavier than anything else we had dealt with. We jacked the building up and slipped in a 5 inch pipe between the house and the skids near each corner of the building for it to roll on. These pipes had about a 1’x2’ notch cut out on the ends. When the time came to move the house, there would be a person on each corner with a rod, (which was made into assort of a crank,) they were put into each of the notches and they would all turn them at the same time, rolling the house along. This is just the way they would have done it in the old days too.
The house was basically one room up stairs and one room down stairs. The steep stair way was in the middle of the house which gave each floor a sort of ‘U’ shape. By stretching a wire with a curtain on it from the stair way to the outside walls, it made three rooms on each floor. Downstairs there is a ‘L’ shaped kitchen and living room. The other area behind the curtain is the bedroom. Upstairs, with the curtains up, would become three bedrooms. The curtains gave our pioneer dwellers some privacy but not very much!
The use of curtains for petitions, instead of real walls, allowed the heat from the one stove, which was mainly used for cooking, to heat the house.
Once the house was on its foundation all the ‘up dating’ and things that had been added over the years had to be removed. We took everything off the walls back to the planks in the kitchen area. In the living room and down stairs bed room we went back to the original plaster and wanes coating.
That was a job and a half. It had three layers of different wall coverings that had to be taken off and all the nails pulled. The kids did a lot of that.
Once that was done we could observe how the house was when it was first built. It was interesting to find that it had been lived in for a while with just the bare planks and apparently was not finished off for a long time after it was built.
We could tell that, because the whole house inside had been white washed. Then, someone had glued strips of cloth on the cracks between the planks, probably to keep some of the wind out, hoping to make it a little warmer in the winter. As we studied it further we noted there were three different layers of wall paper that had been pasted right onto the planks.
That poor homemaker was trying to make her home nice for her family no matter what. Bless her heart.
The kitchen area we stripped back to the bare white washed planks and left it that way so that visitors can see how it was in the beginning.
In the ‘L’ shaped living room and bed room there was quite a bit of patching to do where some of the old horse hair plaster had broken away from the lathe.
Many restorers take everything off to the bare two by fours and start over. I always like to keep everything as original I can and work around all the old. So the old plaster was patched where it had fallen off.
The wanes coating and wood work was repainted pea green which matched the old original color. Wall papers were found that very closely matched the paper that we found below the updating and on the old plaster.
Old antique furniture fills the home to make the picture complete. The rope bed is of real interest to the visitors. Lots of people never knew that the saying, “Sleep Tight” comes from the old timers telling each other to tighten up the ropes on their beds and….Sleep Tight.”
Many of the windows had been replaced with new 'this and that' windows but fortunately they had used windows that fit the openings that were there and did not change the opening sizes. We had a stock pile of old six over six windows that probably would have been what was used in the structure originally. They were just the right size and had the old wavy glass so we used them for the replacements.
If the lap siding on the old house wasn’t so worn and weather beaten it could look as if it might have been added more recently. Upon checking the saw markings (which can date a lot of things,) we found the siding was cut on an ‘up and down’ saw mill. This would mean that the siding had to be cut before the 1870s.
As guest visit the back side of the structure they can see the planks in one area and how they were notched together log cabin style and then pegged together. In another area the vertical one inch boards were added at some point in time and can be seen. These board were weathered before the lap siding was eventually added.
Our restorations were always on a dead line it seemed. It had put it in the calendar of events for the news papers that we would be having the grand opening of The Plank House and would dedicate it on our July Old Fashion Day Festival. It was very appropriate with the Plank House being 150 years old and our country celebrating its 150th birthday that same year.
The house was finished with the help of family and friends, sometimes over a dozen working at a time. There was a nice big crowd there when Festival Time came to help us celebrate at the dedication. Somehow, the rush and hard work, once again, seemed worth it all then.
Now on Festival Days, the home is used as a place where spinning and weaving is done. Guest can visualize and learn by watching. The costumed craft people go about their work just as the lady of the House would have done if it were 1840 again.
In honor of our state’s birthday we held a Barry County, ‘Michigan Sesquicentennial Picnic’ on the grounds. The Plank house was dedicated the day of the picnic, celebrating the house being all restored and it’s 150 year old birthday also.
The Plank House turned out to be a very quaint, cozy home. As the doors are opened on the antiquated old building, it's like stepping back in time, as one catches the aroma of the old ancient beams and furnishings.
Historic Bowens Mills is extremely pleased to be able to share The Plank House, another piece of Barry County and Yankee Springs Township history, with our visitors.
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Near the season’s conclusion, we had an unexpected surprise and honor. We had received a letter from the ‘Michigan Tourism Untied’ congratulating us on owning a business that had been operating for more that 100 years and inviting us to a “special reception” at the Radisson Hotel in Lansing.
On October 28, we were among 30 businesses in the state, including the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, to be honored at the Legislative Celebration as “Michigan Centennial Businesses!!!”
State Rep. Paul Hillegonds presented us with a Centennial Tourism Business Certificate and was by our side during the whole reception. This was a most pleasurable day for us—nice frosting on the cake, so to speak. Carleen and Owen were able to enjoy the celebration with us too.
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THE MARBLE CHAIR….I had a very unusual and exciting thing happen to me. Our friend, Mike, brought me an old office chair. It was pretty beat up and sad looking. He said he was going to burn it up, it was so bad, and then he thought of us and how we loved to make ‘The Past Live Again’. He said, “You can burn it up if you want to.” We said, “Oh no, we’ll fix it up, we can always use it somewhere.”
The chair sat in our work room for months waiting for us to find time to being it back to life. Finely one day, it was tipped up to be worked on. Suddenly, I saw a decal on the bottom of the seat. It said, “MARBLE CHAIR COMPANY—BEDFORD, OHIO”.
Hard to believe, ‘Marble’ being my maiden name!
The very unusual part of it was, when I had been doing research on my ‘Marble Family Tree’ years ago, I had found that my Marble ancestors had a water powered chair factory in Marbletown, New York. From there the histories told me that they moved it to….can you believe, Bedford, Ohio? They also had a water powered chair factory there. I always wondered what kind of chairs they made but never was able to find out. Now I know!!!!!
Just recently I met some folks from Bedford, Ohio and told them my chair story. They said they lived very near that factory. I was overjoyed because I had never been able to get to the area to do any research on my own. They told me the factory is still there but is now known as the “Taylor Chair Factory”. It is a very large concern and they now make all kinds of office furniture.
It is unreal how such an usual thing could happen….of all places in the world that chair could go, it ended up it with me!
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We worked on The Bowen House restorations, expanding the lawn and on making the Old Fashion Day Festivals bigger and better for our guest.
We keep thinking things will slow down soon so we can take a couple of deep breaths, but it doesn’t look like it will. I think this was probably the busiest year yet…but we always feel so fulfilled when “The Past Live Again”...no matter what it takes.
1988…..Way back in the 1840s there was a water wheel which powered an ‘up and down saw mill’ by the creek. Rebuilding the water wheel was ‘Neal’s Dream’ (and mine too.) We had talked and dreamed and looked around at other mills and would tell our selves…’someday’…
We finely heard that the water wheel that was on the old Ashton Mill in Kalamazoo had been taken apart and moved to the site of the old Orangeville Mill, which he owned. It is only a few miles down the road from us. It had laid there for years. Upon going to see it to check it out, we felt we could make it work for us, if he wasn’t going to use it. We tried to locate the owner and never could make a connection with him.
The Orangeville Mill site joined the Orangeville Baptist Church property and soon we heard that the church had bought that land. We rushed over to talk to someone we knew who was a member of that church, telling him our wishes to buy the old wheel. He said he would check it out for us and let us know what the people at the church said.
In just a few days, a telephone call came telling us the wheel was available for what ever donation we wanted to give. (They were wondering how they were going to get rid of it anyway.) So we gave them the scrap metal price which was around $350.00. We were both happy. It cost about that same amount to have it moved to The Mill property.
Now, the next project was working on the foundations and pylons to put the wheel on. We thought we would just quick up get them in and set the water wheel on top and we would be ready to see it turn. Little did we know how many long years it would be before we would finely have it finished.
A lot of water has gone over the dam (so to speak) before it happened.
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The rest of our season was pretty much routine until we got a phone call one morning from someone asking it he could come take some pictures. Of Corse, my answer was yes. Once he arrived he explained to me that there was a contest going on and 30 of Michigan’s top photographers were assigned a different area in the state to take as many pictures as they could on this day in 24 hours. Once they had taken their pictures they handed in the film (undeveloped) to the sponsors of the event. The contest was to be called….”A Day in Michigan”. Out of all the thousands of pictures that were turned in only 200 would be chosen to be in a book with the same title. Also, the chosen ones would all be made into 16x20 enlargements and travel all over Michigan as a roving exhibit. They would be shown at the Capital Building in Lansing, The Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island Etc. and etc. It sounded great. The man who was in charge of the project name was Paul Schanks.
Someone had been advised this photographer to check out the Old Mill. He liked what he saw and started snapping pictures. Neal came down stairs to see what was happening and the guy took pictures of him looking like he was ‘picking’ the mill stones. Some kids came to swim in the mill pond and he snapped some of them with the reflection of the mill in the water. As he was about to leave, I said to him, “I have taken some great pictures right here by these Dutch Doors looking out onto the mill pond. So he asked Neal to step out side and look in at me and for me to stand inside facing him with the bottom of the door between us. Then he told me to reach out and pat his arm or something. I reach up and tugged at his beard just as he snapped the picture. He was soon on his way and we went back to our projects.
One day we were watching TV a few weeks after he had been here and an advertisement came on about where the Photo Show was going to be and low and behold….the picture pops up on the TV screen of Neal and me standing by the mills Dutch Door!!!! We could hardly believe our eyes. We started getting phone calls from family and friends….”Did you have your TV on….Did you see your picture?”
Well, come to find out three, of pictures taken at The Mill had been chosen to be shown. We had ordered one of the books and a day or two later it came in the mail and there we were! Out of the thousands of pictures taken old Bowens Mills had three in the book and in the roving exhibit. WOW!!! It was the only place to have three pictures chosen. The Mackinaw Bridge had two and all the others were single pictures.
So, a few weeks, later I got what I thought was a bright idea. “Why not ask them to show the pictures at Historic Bowens Mills at one of our festivals?” Neal thought I was crazy. He said they would never come to a little place like Bowens Mills. I told him, “Well, I’m going to write and ask Paul Shanks to come….he can do one of three things. He can ignore my letter, he can say ‘yes’ or he can say ‘no’.” I sent the letter off wondering if I would ever hear from him.
Well, at our next festival a man came up to me and said, “Are you Marion? I said, “Yes.” He said, “My name is Paul Shanks.” I about fell over. PAUL SHANKS!!!! WOW!!!!
He asked me what I was thinking about for the photo show, so I took him up to my art gallery on the forth level of The Old Mill. He looked around, smiled and said….”I think this would be a great place to show the pictures. We wouldn’t be able to show them all but we could show quite a few. When would you like for us to come?” Oh, my goodness!!!! I couldn’t believe my ears.
So, the next month at our Old Fashion Day Festival the big feature was the “A Day in Michigan” photo show. It was great! Everyone climbed the stairs and were thrilled to be able to enjoy the exhibit.
Needless to say, I was flying high!!! A great ending for our season.
* * * * * * * * * *
In 1989. the oldest one room school in Barry County, the old Moe School, was given to Historic Bowens Mills to move to its property and restore.
The school was about ten miles away from our Mill grounds. So the ideal way to get it here was to hire it done. I checked into that and found it would cost at least $7,000.00. Wow! That was $7,000.00 that we did not have. So, I went to a local heavy equipment moving place and told them what we were up against. They listened to my story and we made a deal that they would rent me a truck and a driver by the hour and we could do all the work. That sounded pretty good. (??) I asked if the semi trailer could be brought out and left at the site for a weekend giving us time to get the school onto it and ready to move the following Monday. That was agreeable.
There was a little old room that had been added onto the front of the school in the 1930’s that was used as a coat room and storage room for the fire wood and etc. That had to be taken off first. That wasn’t too much of a job.
When it was taken off, it was a three sided affair and was brought to The Mill Property on a flat bed trailer. We lovingly called it ‘Dorothy’s House’ for several years. (It looked like it could have blown in on a tornado.) We didn’t know for sure what it was going to be used for at that time, but we knew we would make it ‘live again’ somehow…..someday. It is now the front section of ‘Granny’s Kitchen” where all those wonderful Apple Dumplings are served on festival days. Some of our fantastic volunteers made that happen…bless their hearts!
The school looked straight and level where it set, so we didn’t think it would be a real big job to jack it up and then roll it onto the trailer and it would be ready to go. However, once we started to raise it up, we found the foundations to be rotted. We had to have timbers sawed out…..which took time. Take out the old rotten timbers…..which took time. Put in the new timbers…..which took time. I had to call the moving company two times to change the date for the big move
Finely, about a month later, the day came. The school was on the trailer, the semi truck was there. Consumers Power was there too, (they wanted to make sure we didn’t take down any wires.) We were ready. We had a couple of neighbors in trucks ready to travel ahead and behind of the semi with the school to stop traffic on the corners and etc.
Everything was all planned out.
There was a little up grade to get the truck and school out of the school yard and onto the road. It was early morning with dew on the ground. The driver made a couple of tries and was not able to make the grade, the wheels would spin on the wet grass when they tried to go up that grade. Oh my, we are paying the truck driver and Consumers big bucks by the hour, now what?
The farmer across the road was doing his chores and keeping an eye on us and realized we were in trouble and he hopped on his big tractor and was there in moments. He hooked onto the truck and they both started up the grade, with the school traveling along behind and very soon we were on the road.
Once we were moving it didn’t take long to get the old school to its new home. I couldn’t believe how fast the driver went down the road. When we got here, the driver parked the trailer and school directly south of where it would eventually be placed and went on his way with his truck, leaving the school and trailer for us to take care of. The next day the school was rolled off the trailer and onto corner pilings to hold it up in place until a stone foundation could be put under it.
When we called the moving company to come pick up the trailer, the driver brought the bill. It was less than $1,000.00. They had only charged for the time the driver was on the road, the time we had the trailer and the delays they didn’t charge for. That was a real blessing!
The neighborhood kids were hired once again to help with the restoration. We had a big dumpster outside of one of the windows and we started pulling off all the up dating.
There were several layers before we finely came to the old painted boards. It was a thrill when we discovered the black boards. They were just what they were called….black boards. There were five different areas that were painted black; I speculated that it was for five different levels of learning….maybe??
There were hundreds of nail holes in the wood that had to be filled before we could paint and get it back to its original color, of…you guessed it…pea green.
There were several layers on the floor of the old floor coverings too. The big dumpster had to be emptied three times before we were finished with it all. The floors were scrubbed and oiled and look like they no doubt did in the old days.
We heard about some old school desks at a couple different places and ended up buying enough to complete the picture of a ‘little house on the prairie school.’
There is one desk that is the same style but a little newer. It was donated and came from the school one of our presidents, Jerry Ford, went to in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is interesting because it had the word FORD carved very deeply into the desk top.
I wrote President Ford a letter asking if it was he who did it. Within two weeks I received a letter back from him with a typical politicians answer: “I could have…it’s been so long ago…I can’t really remember…but maybe…?” So we really don’t know but its fun to contemplate that…”maybe” he did do the carving!
Upon researching The Moe School and its history we found it was built in the 1850’s. We were told that several Native American children attended it along with the white children when it was first new.
When we held the grand opening and dedication on our July Old Fashion Day Festival there were lots of people who came to take part. It was so nice to have several of the former students and teachers there who shared some of their memories of their school days there.
State Representative Bob Bender sent one of his ambassadors to present us with a Certificate of Recognition and a Michigan State Flag. We had gotten wind that this might happen, so there was a tall wood Tamarack flag pole waiting for its flag to be raised. It added so much to our dedication program.
When our school tours come in the fall and the children all file in The Old Moe School and find just the right seat to sit in, the smiles on their faces makes all the time and effort of restoring another piece of the past, worth it all!
* * * * * * * * * * *
NEAL’S PASSING. The school restoration project seemed to be extra hard on Neal, he had been having more and more trouble with his heart again. I got him an appointment with his specialist in the early part of August. We thought he would need to have his medications increased again as had happened several times in the past.
The Doctor felt Neal needed to have a heart cath to get a better idea on what kind of treatment he needed. Upon having it, the doctor could not believe how much blockage he had. Neal took Darvon for his pain and the doctor said that the aspirin in it was probably what kept his blood thin, keeping him from having a heart attack.
The doctor admitted him right then and said he needed to have surgery right away but couldn’t get an operating room that day so he got him in the next day. He wouldn’t even let him go home. I did go home that night and was back bright and early the next morning to be with him before the surgery.
The next 18 days are now somewhat of a blur. Neal came through the surgery but had to stay in CCU for a couple more days than they usually do. He lost a lot of blood because of it being so thin so he had transfusions.
They finely thought he was ready to be transferred up to his regular room. This was in the morning, he was very weak, but they said ‘this is normal.’ He was told he could get up to go to the bathroom and walk around a little, which he did while I was there. I felt very nervous about it though, he was so weak and shaky.
By the end of the day he seemed to be getting weaker and weaker, I didn’t feel he was doing very well at all. I spoke to the nurse about it and she assured me…’this is normal.’ He had had a busy day, being moved and everything. So I accepted her reasoning.
He was having trouble breathing and getting enough air, so they gave him oxygen in his nose. That didn’t seem to be enough so they gave him an oxygen mask, which seemed to be a little better. He was in a semi-private room so they wouldn’t let me stay with him. I stayed until they kicked me out.
I called him early the next morning and he could hardly talk. He was clasping for air. All I could hear him say was, “Something (gasp) is (gasp) very (gasp) wrong.” I said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I was there in record time and when I walked into his room, his bed was empty! Oh my….there were no nurses at the desk, I didn’t know what to do or think. Soon a nurse showed up and said they had taken him down stairs for some x-rays. He was to be back soon.
When they brought him back, he was still gasping for air. We were told he needed to go back to CCU. They took him back momentarily.
We had a little time together before they put him back on the breathing machine. He would drift off to sleep and wake up talking about his dreams, thinking they were real. One time he awoke and wanted me to see all the beautiful trees and that he was seeing. He was looking up in the corner of the room smiling and telling me how strikingly beautiful they were. I think he was seeing his first little bit of heaven right then.
Soon, I had to sign papers letting them put all the wires back into his heart and everything else, just as it was after surgery. He was terrified; he tried to write me messages, but I could hardly read them. His last message to me was, “Are you going to stay?” I assured him I was not leaving the hospital again until we both went together. I surely didn’t know when I told him that, that in just a couple of weeks, he would be leaving out one door and I would be going out another….‘alone.’
They said he had ARDS…Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome. They explained it like his lungs were sort of coated over and the oxygen couldn’t get in like it should.
He was in a weaken condition from his other physical problems. They said the surgery was a success but now all these other things were hampering his recovery. His blood pressure was way to low and the meds they had to use for that made his kidneys shut down and the meds for the kidney problems made the blood pressure go lower.
The doctor tried to tell me he wasn’t going to make it. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) believe it. I told doc, “He’s been through a lot in his life time and he is a fighter, he’ll come through it okay.”
I kept thinking, “Tomorrow things will start to get better.” But everyday, it was one emergency after another, I kept thinking if he could just get one day he didn’t have a problem, maybe he could start getting a little stronger.
When he was restless I would sing to him:
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus there’s just something about your name
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus like the fragrance after the rain,
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus let all heaven and earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms may all pass away
But there’s just something about your name
And then I sing:
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps my singing as I go.
Then I’d sing:
Jesus is the sweetest name I know,
And He’s just the same as His loving name,
That’s the reason why I love him so…
‘Cause Jesus is the sweetest name I know.
I wanted him to keep his mind focused on Jesus and not his troubles.
I stayed night and day. As I look back on it now, why were they letting me do that…they usually limit visits in CCU to ten minutes every other hour. They let me stay right with him around the clock; they brought me blankets and pillows so I would be more comfortable in my chair. Carleen and Owen would come in the evening and sit with him. I would go to a private room they gave us, for our visitors, so I could be with family and friends for a little while at that time.
On our August Old Fashion Day Festival we had the annual open house of our living quarters. All these events are planned months ahead and people look forward to them from year to year. I did all the ads and news releases from the hospital room thinking I would be home by the time it was all to happen.
Carleen made phone calls and friends and neighbors came and cleaned and prepared my home for the open house for me.
Finely, I called my girls in Florida, Dawn and Christina and her baby Stephanie and asked them to come. When they got here, we started doing shifts; with each of us staying with him a few hours at a time. Carleen and Owen were always there in the evening to take over and give us a break. I didn’t want him to be alone. The hospital gave us a storage room where they kept extra beds to sleep. It was nice to be able to lie down after sleeping in a straight chair all this time.
Neal only weighed 135 pounds normally but at this point he looked like he would weigh at least 300; he was so puffed up from his kidneys not working properly. I had Carleen bring a picture of him from home, and we put it on the wall above his bed so we could remember what he looked like.
We kept talking to him but we really couldn’t tell if he was hearing us, he was not responding to us at all.
It was on a Sunday, the doctor took me aside and told me they were going to do a brain scan on him the next day. Then, when morning came he changed his mind and said he didn’t think Neal would make it through the day. I couldn’t believe it yet; I started telling myself I had to!
Family started coming, all my sisters and their husbands were there, plus many of our friends. Thank goodness for our private visiting room, it was full. It was just down the hall from his room so my girls and I just kept taking turns going back and forth. They talked me into laying down about midnight, I was so worn out. I dozed off and they came and woke me up about 1:00 and said he was to be going soon. When I went to his room, I went to the side of his bed where I couldn’t see his monitor screen. I didn’t want to watch that.
On August 22, 1989 at 2:00am Neal went to be with his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. His 18 years of back pain and heart troubles were ended! His 18 days of struggles since his surgery were over.
We went to the visiting room, which was still full of loved ones, to tell them. His nurse was so good, she needed some time to remove all the tubes and wires and bath him, but after that she told us to take our time and come back and forth as many times as we wanted to. We did that several times, going with different members of our family each time. We then told the nurse we were leaving.
I couldn’t believe I was leaving the hospital alone, I had told him we’d go home together! It was hard to go out that door. I sat down by it for several minutes, trying to put it all together. I really felt as if I must be dreaming….soon I would wake up….I had heard people talk about having a broken heart….the pain in my heart was so severe….I understood what they were saying now.
We all stayed at Carleen’s the rest of the night, it was early morning by the time we got there. They put me to bed….I was so exhausted….but didn’t think I could sleep, however, I did sleep for a few hours
THE FUNERAL. I was numb the next few days. I kept thinking, this can’t really be true. I felt like I was on the outside looking in. There were so many people coming and going, so many things to do and so many decisions to make.
All of the sudden it was visitation and funeral time. Al Conklin preached the service. He talked about Noah and the Ark and all our projects at The Mill.
It was a blessing to see all the well wishers and hear their words of encouragement and comfort. The funeral was on August 25, it was very large. Someone told me the cars were lined from the cemetery all the way through town with cars still waiting to get out of the parking lot at Beelers in Middleville.
The burial was at Mt. Hope, in the Cook family lot, beside his mother and dad. The First Baptist Church had a wonderful luncheon for us. When they saw how many people there were, I was told they went to the near by store and cleared their shelves of bread and lunch meat and etc., they hadn’t counted on so many.
I received hundreds of cards, calls and notes of encouragement for weeks after Neal’s death. All our local papers as well as the Grand Rapids Press, Kalamazoo Gazette and Battle Creek Enquire and News all did stories about his life and death. It was very gratifying.
Chris and Stephanie flew back to Florida right away as soon as they could after the service. Dawn stayed for a while longer. When Dawn left, my Granddaughter, Sarah, came and stayed with me so I wouldn’t be alone.
Everything seemed to go wrong those first few weeks after Neal died. The transmission went out on the van, I got it fixed and put it up for sale. I couldn’t bear to keep it. So, then I had to buy a car…that was a big decision to make on my own. Then the well went dry and I had to have that fixed. Somehow, with everyone’s help, I got through it.
* * * * * * * * * *
THE GREAT LAKES TIMBER SHOW. Just two weeks after Neal’s death we had a special Labor Day Festival planned.
We normally just had our once a month Festivals but we had always wanted to try this. We were having “The Great Lakes Timber Show.” Everything was all scheduled and the advertising done so I had to go through with it, want to or not. All I had to do was the news releases and get the supplies and get The Mill ready and volunteers and workers lined up for them. That shouldn’t be so bad, I had been doing it for eleven years, it should be routine by now. But it was like I was in a fog. I couldn’t think and couldn’t remember any thing. I kept loosing things and crying a lot. I was in a real panic most of the time. My girls kept pushing me in the right direction trying to help. Many neighbors came and pitched in too.
We had been dreaming about doing a Festival like this for some time. “The Great Lakes Timber Show” would be putting on a show both Saturday and Sunday. It was a big step for us to do that because it cost $2,500.00 to get them here. We were charging a small gate fee, so we were in hopes they would bring in a big crowd and a lumber company in Grand Rapids had agreed to pay half of their fee, for some advertising, so we were confident we would be okay.
It would be a prefect set up. There would be log rolling and canoe jousting on The Mill Pond along with log cutting with a cross cut saw and hatchet throwing contests. I advertised heavily, which cost quite a bit too but I had to get a good crowd there.
As the time grew near for The Festival I kept trying to call the lumber company to touch bases with him and let him know how things were going. The fellow who I had made the agreement with was not returning my calls. I called him everyday to no avail. His receptionist finely told me just a couple of days before our big date that he was not going to follow through on our financial agreement. I was overwhelmed. What a shock, now what was I going to do? It was quite an undertaking for us even with his help and now this!
When my brother-in-law, Russ, heard about my predicament, he talked to several people he did business with and they pitched in with some money and helped me out.
When the Festival days came we were already and our visitors started pouring in. Everything looked good. The show was great. They were really good and funny too. Our guest certainly loved them. They knew about me being in grief and were so supportive. At that point, I was so sad that I didn’t think I would ever laugh again but they made me laugh. I thanked them over and over again, their funny jokes and everything they did gave me hope that someday everything would be OK again.
We took in enough to supplement the donations that had come in and pay the logging crew, wow that was great!! That was Saturday, on Sunday it rained. Of course the show still went on but we had very few guest there. The Festivals are supposed to be fund raisers to help defray the cost of the restorations.
Well, we about broke even after the expenses of the ads and ect. I consoled myself with the thought, I didn’t go in the hole and I was glad for that.
The Great Lakes Timber Show was so good and everyone that was there enjoyed them so much that I booked them again for the next two years.
Both years it was the same story, one day would be good weather the next bad. I still managed to break even but gave up on having The Timber Show come after the third year. We were having fun but it was just so much trouble to get ready for them and then just break even. Then, there was always the worry, what if it rained both Saturday and Sunday? I would really be in a jam and I just couldn’t gamble on it.
FLORIDA. As soon as The Festivals were over Sarah and I left for Florida. She spent about three months with me down there, returning to Michigan in January.
We had a good time on the way; we made a little vacation out of it. It was the first that Sarah had been out on her own. She had been working in a local restaurant and had some money saved. We went over to the east coast and traveled down that way visiting many places of interest along the way.
It was a comfort to have her with me and to be away from all the deadlines and not to be constantly pushing myself and under so much tension.
Before we got to my trailer, Chris and Jeff, my Florida kids, had been there and had it all fixed up and changed it all around for me so it wouldn’t be so hard going in. They had put up new blinds and changed the furniture arrangement. It was a surprise to see the changes and it wasn’t like when I walked in and remembered Neal always being there lying on the couch, where he always was. So that made it a little easier.
We had a memorial service for Neal in our park soon after we got down there. My girls sang and I had one of my pastor friends speak. Lots of people from the park came. It was nice for them to have a closure too.
The winter passed by swiftly. I carried on the ‘Hymn Sing’ and other responsibilities that I had in my park. It was so hard to do many of the things, but I had to, I carried on the best I could.
My best friend dropped dead towards the end of my time there and I ended up doing a memorial for her too. I didn’t know if I could do the service or not I was hurting so much myself, it was hard to be of comfort to others.
I kept telling myself that I had done this so many times for others in my park; I could do it for her too. As the song goes, ‘Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul’. Just within moments of the time I found I was to do the service for her and her family, God gave me a wonderful message to bring to them and our park people. I got through it with Gods help as strong as could be.
The family and friends were comforted by the wonderful words God had given me to share with them. I got a thank you from the family later after they had their memorial service for her at her home in New York. They said the service was good but not as meaningful as ours was in Lincoln Arms Park. That meant a lot to me.
* * * * * * * * *
I gave my painting classes in Florida too. God saw to it I had loads of students. It was gratifying to see a lot of my painters much older than myself learning to paint. They were so thrilled; many of them had always wanted to paint and never had the opportunity.
We started having an Art Show at the end of the season so they could show off their handy work to their friends and the trailer park people. It was pretty rewarding for me (and them) to see all their work framed and all the ‘ohs and ahs’ when the park people came for the viewing.
I thank God for the talent He gave me to be able to teach.
All these things kept me busy so I didn’t have too much time to think and I thought that was probably good.
NEALS GRAVE MARKER. While I was in Florida I was on the phone a lot trying to locate a small Mill Stone that was for sale. I had a fantastic idea for Neal’s grave stone. I wanted to have it made to resemble our big mill stone marker out in front of our grounds. I kept running into dead ends but everyone I talked to would give me another phone number of someone who ‘might’ have one.
I finely found a mill stone in Knoxville, Tennessee. I could go home that way and look at it.
It was pink granite and about two foot across. The man didn’t really want to sell it but when I told him what I had in mind, he said to me, “I didn’t think I would ever sell this stone.“ But he ended up selling it to me for $100.00. We rolled it out to the car and hoisted it to the back seat floor right behind my seat where it traveled very well.
I was determined to have the marker on the grave site before Memorial Day. I had asked friends and relatives to bring a pretty stone for the base. Now each stone has a special meaning and was from a special person.
Once again I got a hold of our friend Al and told him what I wanted and he went to work. The marker turned out very good and was quite unique.
* * * * * * * * * *
INCOME All my income was cut off when Neal died so I had that to deal with too. He had a couple of small insurance policies but it took a lot of that to pay for the funeral and doctor bills.
I didn’t know if I could make it or not on my own. I hadn’t worked in an office for a long time and didn’t know if I would be able to get a job at 58 years old, now with all the new computer stuff happening, that I didn’t know anything about.
With a lot of work and planning on my part, The Mill had always paid its own way from the festivals income and my painting classes. But there was never anything extra left. But God took care of me and money started coming in from a lot of unexpected places. One of Neal’s cousins sent me $1,000, and vowed to send me $300.00 a month for as long as I needed it. So with the $1,000 and what I got out of the old van I was able to pay cash for different car. God sent me lots more painting students and that gave me increased income. A lady in my park needed someone to stay with her nights, that wasn’t easy to leave my comfort zone and sleep in a strange bed but I did that too and brought in a little more money there too.
It was amazing how I got by. It wasn’t easy but amazing! I didn’t want to give up my Old Mill and I soon found I could make a go of it by myself.
GRIEVING I was so busy and rushed I don’t think I really had any time to mourn Neal’s death much while I was in Michigan.
There are five stages of grief they are as follows:
Guilt (fear ?)
Hopelessness and/or depression
1. Unbelief….I spent some time in unbelief; I kept thinking I was dreaming and would soon wake up.
2. Guilt….I also had the guilt, wondering if I had done all I could have for Neal, telling myself maybe I should stopped the surgery. It was probably that that made him die.
3. Anger….I was angry with Neal for leaving me here to deal with everything alone, I didn’t like being alone. I was angry with God for letting him die. I was always pretty content with my life and never prayed for much for myself. Now, I had so desperately prayed that Neal would get well. It was one of the few things I had really ever pleaded for, for myself and He said, “No.’ I felt very rejected. I never left God, but I just was so disappointed.
4. Hopelessness and /or depression….many times
I would think what’s the use of going on. I had to deal with a lot of depression each year especially when I would return to Michigan. I would think I just couldn’t handle it and would want to go to bed and forget the whole deal.
5. Acceptance…. It took me a long time to accept what had happened. I didn’t like it at all. I did not like being alone. Then I remembered what the paper said in his obituary, I was his survivor. I really didn’t want to be a survivor, but I was, so I might as well make the best of it. I would survive. I kept asking God “Why?” “Why? ”Then one day a still small voice within me said…”Why not?” That really make me stop and think. Who was I….trying to tell God what to do? Accept it and go on.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was hard to come back to Michigan, The Mill and all its memories the spring of 1990 but it was my life and I had to face it. I kept busy cleaning and getting ready for our Festival Season. The neighborhood kids and my grandson O.J. were always there to see if I needed help. I needed company more than anything; it was so hard to be there alone. I had a lot of school tours plus my painting classes that summer so that kept me busy and sure helped fanatically too.
I changed a lot of things around on the museum floor and filled the show cases with a lot of things Neal had made and some pictures. Of course a lot of our regular visitor from out of town had not heard of his death so that was hard explaining everything to them when they would come to visit.
We started collecting stones to cover the cement pylons on the water wheel foundation. Aunt Violet gave me a lot of them along with a lot of big stones to use around The Mill for landscaping too.
Once again, friend Al, did the cement work and the pylons looked so nice. I planned to do something to the water wheel each year until it was done. I couldn’t begin to even guess how much money we have put into it already. But it was ‘Neal’s Dream’ (and mine too).
The summer was hard on me, trying to deal with my grief and then all it entails to pull these festivals off just seemed to be too much. By the end of the season I was worn out.
I made another big decision that fall. We had always had our Old Fashion Day Festivals on the third weekend of each month, June through October, making ten days of festivals. It was so much work getting everything ready each month for that one or two days. Everything had to be cleaned and all the ad and news releases had to be done ahead of time too. I never got a break. Then, we were open on all Saturdays to the public 10am to 4pm. I knew if I didn’t make some changes I would burn our very soon.
My big decision was, to start a new format. I had spent much time thinking and praying about it. There would be no more summer Festivals, everything would be geared for the fall. I would start the weekend after Labor Day and each weekend after that through October. That would give us six or seven week ends (12 or 14 days) depending on the year. Doing it this way, I could have all summer to get ready and once the events started they would sort of roll from then on, until we were done. We always had better crowds in the fall anyway; People always like to see the cider made on the huge old antique press.
I chose a new name too, The Festivals would now be known as “ITS CIDER TIME FESTIVALS” instead of ‘Old Fashion Days.’
It was in the fall of this season that Carleen and Owen and I made a deal on the Bowen House and they ended up buying it from me at that time also. This will free me up a lot, now I won’t have to worry about the taxes and insurance and other everyday expenditures there anymore.
WHEN THE 1991 SEASON came around a real big thing happened this year….I turned 60….this meant I would start getting widows pension. This was a big thing for me, now I would have a steady income each month, which would take a lot of the pressure off. It had been hard not having a real job and having to make enough money with my classes to make ends meet for my personal needs plus The Mill expenses those two years.
I was to busy with the work at The Mill to be able to keep a real job, if I could have found one at my age.
It really seemed very different not to have the festivals in the summer but I sure didn’t miss all those dead lines I had been having all those years! I was still very busy with my oil painting classes; they seemed to get bigger each year.
We were still working on The Bowen House. Each year we would do another room or so. It was very gratifying to finish off the last bedroom that year. It all looked so nice and what a relief to have it done!
The part I wanted to get done on the water wheel this season was to get ‘the capitals’ in place and the bearings mounted on top of the stone pylons.
We had the saw mill in Freeport do a lot of our work for us. So I had taken the measurements over there to see if they could cut them out. They were big and had to be of white oak. They promised to cut them just as soon as they found the right wood and the right size.
I had been calling all over the place trying to find some bearings for the water wheel. I kept running into dead ends. No one seem to have any as big as I needed and didn’t have any idea where I might be able to find some either. The shaft that they had to fit around was six inches in diameter. So that was what was hard about it. They were so big.
I finely happened to think of a friend over in South Haven that was into heavy construction. I gave him a call. His answer was he had a big pile of odds and ends of junk out behind his barn. He thought possibly might have some. Wow! Something positive! I had felt like giving up but knew I couldn’t.
If he did find something he didn’t know if they would be that big or not. His answer was….he’d look and would get back with me. A few days later I saw a red pickup drive in that I didn’t know. Come to find out it was my friend, he had found his bearings but they were a little smaller than what I needed. I was disappointed but he said I could have them and maybe use them to deal with, when I did find the right ones.
They were really big and heavy. He dropped them off near the waterwheel site. They set there for a while and one day my brother-in-law was over and he looked at them and did some measuring and figuring and said, “I think I can make them work, the metal is much heavier than usual, and so they can be milled out.” He had a machine shop. He took them with him and milled them out to fit the shaft. Hard to believe after all these years of looking I finely had the bearing I needed.
By this time the wood capitals had been cut out, delivered and in place. All we had to do now was wait for the bearings to be put on top of them. It all happened before the end of the year.
I was keeping myself busy, which they say is the best thing to do when in grief. Sometimes I wondered, how busy is too busy. Even though I didn’t have the festival dead lines there was always so much to do. I attended grief classes in Hastings, which helped, but after being a care giver for Neal for 18 years it was hard to adjust to my new life.
Come fall, I was ready for the “Its Cider Time Festivals.” The Mill and all the building were cleaned and ready for our visitors. The ads and news relieves were out and posters were up and everything I could think of was done to try and get good crowds to come.
It worked just as I had hoped and we had much bigger crowds each weekend and made more money for our restorations than what we did when we had the events each month. It was much easier on me too. Thank you, Lord!
During the winter of 1992 I made a big move! Really! I decided I was ready for a change. A big change! There was a mobile home for sale in the back of my park that I liked the looks of. It was a fixer upper, just what I liked. I knew how to do that. I put my mobile up for sale and made an offer on the one I liked. My offer was accepted but my trailer hadn’t sold.
The day I bought the new one I was really shook up. I was worrying about what I had gotten myself into….having two trailers to pay rent on. I worried about, what if I couldn’t get my old one sold and everything else I could think of? Worry, worry, worry!!!
I stood on my new screened in porch, crying and asking myself why I thought I needed to make this move. All of the sudden a bunch of beautiful butterflies landed on some of the scrubs in front of me and it was as if the Lord was saying to me, “This is your new life.” Oh my! So I calmed down.
In just a few weeks my old trailer sold so all the worry was for nothing.
I moved in, my kids pitched in and helped and in just a few weeks it was transformed. Some old people had lived in the home for years and never did anything to it to fix it up.
It’s amazing what a little wallpaper and paint and new carpet will do. I did what I could that year knowing when I came back in the fall I would finish up the things I wanted to do to it that I didn’t get done.
* * * * * * * * * *
During that winter I had gotten word from the State of Michigan that they were taking over all dams and their inspections. They were not going to take care of them; they were just going to over see our taking care of them. That was a big blow because we had always been very careful to inspect our dam every few years and make sure it was in good repair. But I guess some dam owners let things go and their dams had given away and flooding resulted. So the state was taking over. They said we had to have our dam inspected by a certified engineer that summer.
Inspecting the dam is a big job. Just getting it ready to inspect takes a lot of time. The Mill Pond has to be drained. There is what we call a ‘head gate’ down by the mouth of our Payne Creek near Barlow Lake. That has to be closed off as tight as possible, so as to cut off the water flow. Once that is done, we have to wait for the water to drain out of the pond, which takes quite a few hours. As time passes, the water flows out of the mill pond, and is drained, it turns into a creek again. It is pretty much as it was before the dam was put in. The whole dam is exposed at this time and is ready for inspection. .
Once The Mill Pond is drained, we call our engineer and he comes and looks everything over and makes sure we don’t need to make any repairs. If repairs are needed, we do it at this time. Then, he makes a report to The State of Michigan.
We are doing everything just as we did before the State of Michigan took over the dams. But now we have to pay an engineer $2,500.00 for the inspection. He only could tell us what we could see for ourselves. Our own inspections didn’t cost us any thing but our time.
It was hard to try not and think about all the restorations we could have done with that $2,500.00. After the inspection, there wasn’t much money left to do anything else this year.
The only thing I could do on the Water Wheel this season was have the big eight foot three inch gear and its six inch shaft moved by a heavy equipment company and set in place in the bearings on top of the pylons.
That didn’t seem like much but it was something. I wanted to keep plugging away on that water wheel and sooner or later it would be done.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The Fork River Free Trappers have been a tremendous help to us. The old Moe School needed a new roof really bad. They told me if I could buy the metal roofing they would put it on. I don’t know how I came up with the money, seems like it was around $600.00, but I did and they did! It was so good to have that done. It looked so nice and it looked so bad before they started. It hadn’t been leaking yet but it was close.
* * * * * * * * * *
The summer season past by all very quickly and all the sudden it was ‘Its Cider Time’ again. We had good festivals again with lots of people. We always have something special and different going on each weekend besides the cider making so many people come back every week. The Civil War and Mountain Men Encampment weekends are the favorites.
Every year there were always surprises, sometimes a camera crew would show up from TV8 or TV3, our local television stations, to do a special. Sometimes it would be a reporter from some big news paper or Michigan Living Magazine that would come to do an article. We loved that free advertising.
* * * * * * * * * *
Everyone told me when Neal died, “The first year is the worse.” I couldn’t wait until the first year was up…..it was still the same.
The second year passed and I still couldn’t seem to get a handle on my grief. I finely had some ‘one on one’ counseling and it seem to help some. It’s so hard to adjust. The first year I was in shock and numb, the second year, it sinks in, what has really happened. Then comes the third year and suddenly it becomes a reality, he’s gone, he’s not coming back and this is the way it is. Adjust!!
* * * * * * * * * *
1993 was here before I knew it. I had had a busy winter in Florida as usual. I had taken up line dancing as a pass time and really enjoyed that and made some new friends.
I was starting to go places with men friends, which was pleasant; it’s nice to have a man to visit with. Several of them started talking marriage and I quickly put on my brakes. Everyone I had gone out with so far, I knew right away, I would not get serious with.
* * * * * * * * * *
In April of 1993 I returned to Michigan and back to The Mill. The days are full with my classes, Bible Club, tours and trying to keep up the lawn work. It was always quite a job to get all the scheduling done for the fall season too. Lots of phone work also.
There wasn’t much money left from last year income due to the expense of the dam inspection, so I couldn’t do anything on the water wheel. I didn’t like that…but what could I do? There was always a lot of up keep that wouldn’t cost much, so I concentrated on that.
Some dear friends had volunteered to paint the Moe School (it needed it badly). All I had to do was buy the paint. A local hardware store let me buy the paint at its cost, so that really helped me out a lot. It was worked on all summer, it seemed, and, oh my, did it look nice when they were done.
I always hired neighborhood kids to help with my projects and would have them come in the afternoons so I could work with them after my classes. I knew how to do most of the projects but just wasn’t strong enough to do a lot of them. We replaced broken windows, mended and pointed up a lot of stone work around The Mill and the dam. Donated electric wire was laid under ground so we could have power in our festival area and we did many other things that needed doing too.
One day I had mentioned to the Mountain Men group I hoped to have ‘my kids’ clear off the area on banks by the old Mill Stream. I felt it would make such a great place for their encampments.
Some of them walked through the weeds, brush and wild berry bushes with me so they could see the area I had in mind. They said, “You shouldn’t have to hire someone to do that, we’ll be over in a week or two and do it for you.”
I already felt so indebted to them for putting the roof on the school. But they said they liked to take on projects. In just a few weeks, they all showed up with chain saws, rakes, loppers, lawn mowers and lots of muscle and started to work. By late afternoon the job was done, all the brush was gone along with the trees being trimmed, lawn mowed and everything carried away. It looked like a park! That group of guys are something else!
The summer past by very swiftly and before I knew it “It’s Cider Time” was here again. I had another good season and ended up with some money left over after paying my bills for next years projects. I was thankful for that!
I was glad to get back to Florida after such a busy season. I went back to my new home in the sunny south with lots of plans on what I could do this year to really make it ‘me’. I would be able to finish up my redecorating projects. I had been collecting butterflies which I used in each room in honor of my ‘new life.’
I was working my way through my grief, I was very lonely but was feeling some relief. At this point I think it probably was more loneliness than grief I was experiencing.
When the New Year (1994) came around I felt as if I was going to be able to make it on my own, It‘s been 5 years since Neal has be gone. I hated being alone and prayed God would send someone to spend my time with.
I returned to Michigan the last of April again and got started with the lawn work and other things that needed to be done, getting ready for the season. I had decided to start being open to the public on Thursday afternoons this year. We had always been open on Saturdays so for all these years (17) that we had owned The Mill, I never had a weekend to myself.
I had hired a friend who needed some money to help me get The Mill ready to open for the season. Every year it was the same story, it was so dirty and so dusty and so cob webby. Everything had to be gone over to get it ready for our guest. I planned to open the first Thursday in June.
My paint classes were on Monday and Wednesday mornings and Tuesday evenings. I had a bible study and prayer meeting I went to on Tuesday mornings. Then Carleen and I shopped on Fridays. So the weeks were pretty full.
All of the sudden a BIG thing happened…..the Lord answered my prayer and sent me another good man. Ron Frye and I were married on the 14th of July after a whirlwind romance that only lasted three weeks.
After the wedding and honeymoon, it was back to reality. Ron pitched right in and helped with all my duties at The Mill. He also took responsibly for the lawn which was always a job for me. He even bought a new lawn mower, which was really needed.
Some of the neighbors volunteered to convert ‘Dorothy’s House’, (remember the Wizard of Oz House, off the old school, I spoke of it earlier?) They made it into what is now called “Granny’s Kitchen.” At long last, we don’t have to have those concession trailers to deal with anymore!
Most of the money I made last fall went to pay for the materials and equipment for that.
We had a very good ‘It’s Cider Time’ season. It was very good to have Ron’s help and support. It made the season go so much easier for me.
At the last festival, the Fork River Free Trappers encampment leader asked if there was anything else they could do around The Mill for a project. I told him there was just one more thing I really wanted to do and that was to finish off the water wheel in Neal’s memory. His eyes got real big, he hadn’t expected a project with this much magnitude. He said, “I don’t know if the boys will want to take on anything that big or not.” I told him to think of it as a giant erector set. The parts are all here, all they had to do was put them back together. He said he would talk to them about it.
I didn’t expect an answer for a while but just a few minutes later he came back and said they had talked it over and they voted to do it. Wow!!! Just like that. A load lifted off me and I now had hope that it really would become a reality. We had been working on it for so many years, I couldn’t wait to see it finished.
Ron and I went to Bradenton for the winter with big plans as to what we would do ‘next year.’
In February of 1995 we made a rush trip back to Michigan when we got word that my Mom was not doing well and wasn’t expected to live for very much longer. She passed away on the 27th and her funeral was March 2nd. We returned to Florida right after the funeral. (Stories about “Granny’s Memories” can be found at the very end of Carleen’s web site.) bowensmills.com.
In April of that same spring we got a call that Ron’s sister had passed away unexpectedly so we packed up and returned back to Michigan to stay for the summer. So that was a sad few months for us.
The Mountain Men started in on the water wheel, working on weekends when they could all get together. They got the spokes all cut off to size and in place that season. It looked good to see it finely starting to take shape. I must have somewhere around $10,000.00 in it so far. A lot of it didn’t even show because it was under the ground in the foundations and for supplies.
We did a lot of maintenance jobs that needed doing, repainting the out houses and Plank House and touching up The Mill where it needed it, to name a few.
We were both past retirement age and we were working way too hard and knew that it wouldn’t be long and we couldn’t to it any longer. So, we were thinking about options on what we could do.
Getting ready for our retirement we cut seven acres off from the south side of The Mill property and put a home back in there by the creek, amidst the pines. It was a great site for a home with a woods on one side and an open field on the other. We would have lots of wild life to enjoy back there.
A little later we built a garage (28’x42’) to put all my ‘stuff’ from The Mill that I wanted to keep or sell.
It made me sad to think of moving out of The Mill, even though I knew I would have a very nice comfortable house to move into. I had lived there for so long and had put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it. It had been my home for seventeen summers. To me it was a lot more, than just a place to live.
Once again, it was a good season. People love to come to The Old Mill to see the fresh cider made and eat an apple dumpling.
That fall Ron had open heart surgery, which ended up being quite and ordeal.
* * * * * * * * * *
In the spring of 1996 the Barry County Health Department came.
They really went over everything with a fine tooth comb.
They were sure that the septic tank wasn’t big enough for our operation. I tried to tell them we hardly used any water. Bottled Water was bought for our guest and we served everything on paper or plastic. Only a couple of crock pots were washed in the sinks and that only took a little water. But nothing to do, they wanted to see the septic tank so we had to have it dug out for them to see. Guess what? It was big enough.
They also told me they would not approve the well we, even though its numbers checked out fine when we had it tested. So then, I had to put in a new four inch well put in, so once again, all the money I had saved for my projects and restorations and the was gone.
Men worked on the water wheel and were making real good progress on it.
The summer flew by and suddenly it was time for our busy time of the year again. We knew we had to have an especially good festival season this fall because it was time to have the dam inspected again, which would probably take all the money again. The season was good and there was enough left over after the bills were paid to have the inspection done.
In the spring of 1997 we had finely decided we had to put The Mill up for sale. I loved that Old Mill so much. It was a very hard decision for me to make. It would be almost like selling a member of the family.
However, I knew I couldn’t carry on much longer. All those constant dead lines and demands put on us from the county and state were getting me down. There were always news releases or calendar dates or advertisements due. We had lots of tours to get ready for. The phone rang constantly. Always something! I got so I couldn’t sleep, the pressure was bad and I would find myself up until the wee hours night after night always trying to catch up.
I knew it was time! I really didn’t want to do it and I really didn’t want to stop the festivals either. I had worked so hard to get them going and to get such good crowds here. Everyone loved coming to The Old Mill in the fall.
It was a real job to go through everything on those four floors of the mill and sort out all my personal stuff. I had to decide what I wanted to keep, what I wanted to give to the girls, what I wanted to get rid of and what I wanted to sell. Carleen helped me and everyday we would sort through another area.
We had the dam inspected again. It proved to be in good shape. The Mountain Men are still plugging away at the water wheel; we keep thinking it will surely be done by next year. It was such a big job but it’s finely starting to take shape!
Now, it was time for the “It’s Cider Time Festivals” again. Once the season starts, it just sort of rolls and before we know it, its time to close up for the year and head to Florida. We try not to get to busy down there so we’ll be rested and ready for the next season.
In 1998 I put The Mill up for sale. I advertised heavily in The Old Mill News and other publications and had quite a few “lookers.” Most of them were thinking of making The Mill into apartments or a restaurant or something like that. That sort of made me feel sick. I wanted someone to come along and fall in love with it; the way is was, like I had. We had chosen to live right next door, so it would be pretty hard to not see what was happening there once it was sold.
Later in the summer Barry County got on the band wagon. They got all excited about buying it. I knew The Mill and its upkeep and all the things that always needed doing would be a real burden to the county if they bought it and had to hire everything done. It would be a real burden on the tax payers. So I had mixed feeling about that.
We never took a salary for all the hours we put in; we just did everything as a labor of love. That way we could put any money that came in from festivals, gate fees, tours, donations and income from Granny’s Kitchen and sales from my little ‘Antiques and Such’ store, right into our restorations.
We made The Old Mill pay its own insurance, taxes and upkeep with that income, just as it had in the old days.
While we were having our last “It’s Cider Time Festivals” that fall I was sort of sick inside seeing all the people there enjoying them selves I started thinking to myself, “This could be the last year this will all be happening.”
On the last festival of the season, as I stood on The Mill dock looking out over the crowd on the grounds having such a grand time, listening to the folk music, savoring their apple cider and apple dumplings, I thought, “I just can’t do it!”
When we closed up that night I told Ron, “I just can’t do it!” He said, “Can’t do what?” I said, “I just can’t sell The Mill.” His reply was, “You don’t have to. If you’re not up to continuing on with it, we can just close the doors and keep it.” Oh my, what am I going to do?
He then said, “It would be nice it you could just lease it to someone for the ‘It’s Cider Time,’ season, you have worked so hard to get it going and the folks really like coming here.” Oh my, what am I going to do? I’m going to take it off the Market.
The next day I told Carleen I was taking it off the market. She was surprised. We were talking about maybe her and Owen just doing the ‘It’s Cider Time’ festivals. One thing led to another and the next thing we knew, we made a deal to sell them The Mill.
I hated to see them have to work so hard because it’s a real commitment, The Mill demands 200% of your time. When people would sometimes ask me if I owned The Mill, I would say, “No, it owns me!” The kids now have found what I was talking about, when I said that, but they are doing a fine job of keeping the dream alive.
So, it was that fall we made the arrangements for our daughter and son-in-law, Carleen and Owen, to buy The Mill.
It then seemed strange not to be constantly thinking of ideas and things I could do at The Mill for the next season. I had to remind myself constantly, that that was behind me.
* * * * * * * * *
It was in the year of 2000 a dream came true. It had always been our dream from day one to recreate the water wheel, sometimes it seemed as if it would never become a reality. We had been working on it for so many years. However, I am one to never give up and I am so proud to report that, at long last, after around 15 years, the Water Wheel was finely completed! What a project!!
A nice dedication service was planned. The Mountain Men were all there, along with a huge group of friends and relatives to help us celebrate. Speeches were made, some by The Mountain Men, Al Conklin and Ron (and me too.)
I had a nice bronze plaque made with Neal’s picture and dates on it and entitled it ‘Neal’s Dream’. Al had mounted it on one of Aunt Violet’s huge stones right near The Water Wheel. On the day of the dedication it was covered with a sheet until just the right moment during the ceremony when Owen and Carleen unveiled it.
Then, when the last speech was made, at just the right time, the water gate was opened and The Water Wheel begin to turn. Everyone cheered and it was a very happy day for all of us.
I would like to think Neal was very happy too.
That was my last mission there at The Old Mill, to get that Water Wheel up and running in Neal’s honor and memory.
* * * * * * * * *
As I look back over the 20 years that I had The Mill, even though, I’ve had a very, very busy life, it was very fulfilling—a whole lot different than the lazy days of when I lived at the lake. It was hard and frustrating at times but very rewarding to see something which was once a useless old neglected building come back to life and be something worthwhile. (I know we could never have done it with out the help of family and friends.)
When we shared The Old Mill on our festivals and tours, the enjoyment and smiles and words of encouragement from our guest made it all worthwhile. It was very satisfying to know we preserved all this area history for ‘future generations to learn from and enjoy.’
I’ve never been sorry that, that day so many years ago, we listened to our hearts, on making that all important decision and said, “YES” to buying The Mill,.
It was most fascinating and intriguing to live in an Old Mill for so many years….where “THE PAST LIVES AGAIN”.