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The historic cider mills of Michigan.

In the 1800s, nearly every town in Michigan had one: a mill that would press farmers' apples into cider. Now, only about 100 businesses still produce this naturally sweet beverage. And just a handful operate in a mill built during the 19th century. These are the stories behind those mills.

The first recorded mention of cider-making in Michigan dates back to 1708, when Francois Clairambault d Aigremont--sent by the administrators of New France to inspect trading posts in the interior--commented in a report that he was unimpressed by the beverage's regional flavor. So much so that h noted "the cider made from the native apples is as bitter as gall." It's likely that d'Aigremont was referring to the region's crabapples--not an ideal base for the typically sweet drink.

But as pioneers to the area planted fruit trees from their homeland, the Michigan product began to improve. By the end of the 18th century, cider had become--along with whole apples, fish, and fur--one of the territory's primary exports.

The beverage of this time was much closer to what one would consider hard cider today: "the vinous liquor produced by fermentation of the juice of apples, before acetous or vinegar fermentation has succeeded," as described by J.M. Trowbridge in "The Cider Maker's Hand Book" (1903).

The height of hard cider's popularity came during the presidential campaign of 1840, when William Henry Harrison positioned himself as a cider-drinking man of the working class. After that period, scholars argue, the popularity of alcohol cider in the United States began to decrease due to the rise of the temperance movement as well as an influx of German settlers who produced a superior beer to homegrown brews. By the time Prohibition came and went, beer had taken over as the preferred alcoholic beverage and cider came to be defined as "sweet"--an unfiltered, unfermented apple juice.

Cider--hard or sweet--could be made by just about anyone with apples and the proper machinery: basically, a small, hand-turned press. To produce cider for mass consumption, however, required an altogether different operation. According to "The Cider-Makers' Manual," written in 1869 by J.S. Buell, the model cider mill was placed close to a "living stream of water"--for propelling the necessary machinery--as well as "upon the side of a bluff, so that the building may have three floors, each of which to be made accessible to teams whenever desired, and at the same time, so arranged, that all parts might be protected from frost in the winter, and excessive heat in the summer."

The FRANKLIN CIDER MILL in Bloomfield Township is located in one such facility. In the 1830s, Colonel Peter Van Every purchased an unfinished business venture from a man named Edward Mathews. Following Mathews' original plans, Van Every erected a flouring mill along what is now known as the Franklin River, a tributary of the Rouge River. And it thrived. In fact, for two years, the mill was the only gristmill in Oakland County where farmers could sell their wheat for cash.

Ownership of the mill changed hands several times during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In "Milling Through the Years in Franklin," historian Lori Roth suggests that James Flynn purchased the mill in 1915--about 20 years after the nearby dam broke due to a flood, and rendered the mill idle.

Where and when the mill's cider press originated remains contested among sources. While some say it was shipped from Germany in the early 1900s, others say it came from Europe in the early 19th century. And there are those who believe the press was simply taken from a mill located downstream.

Wherever the "roots" of the press may be, it was cider that made the mill a going concern in the 20th century. Flynn sold the facility in 1930 to a widow named Amelia B. Crim, who eventually sold the property to Abraham Levin. When Robert McKee purchased the mill--then powered by water--from Levin in 1941, he had to agree to several stipulations: that the cider season would run from August 15 to January 1 each year and that he would not sell liquor. McKee also agreed that if the mill were to be destroyed by fire or other causes, he would work with the Michigan Society of Architects to construct a new facility.

By 1968--two years after Jack Peltz acquired the business--the wheel at the mill was driven by a new source of energy. The summer of that year, a flood broke the dam and washed away a 30-foot section of the road the mill stands on. When the road was fixed, the power of the water wheel was lost, necessitating a change to electricity.

Ownership of the mill has since stayed in the Peltz family and, today, is claimed by Jack's son Barry.

Some mills, such as the YATES CIDER MILL in Rochester Hills, continue to use water power today. In 1863, William Yates built a wooden dam across the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal, or the present-day Clinton River, to direct water to his gristmill. By 1876, the Yates family had installed a cider press and the business had become known as Yates Cider Mill. In 1894, the original building was rebuilt and replaced, and the 26-inch water turbine which provides direct power for the cider operation--was installed.

Located 10 feet underwater at the foot of the mill, the turbine is propelled by water from across the street. (The undershot wheel located along the front of the mill was added in the late 1950s and serves as decoration only.)

Chuck Posey served as a repairman for the mill's machinery before taking over the business in 1959. When third-generation miller Kate Titus and her husband Mike acquired the mill from Les Posey (Chucks son and Kate's father) in 2007, the family members worked together to repair the turbine rather than replace it. Mike, a mechanical engineer by trade, helped with the designs and drawings for the replacement parts, while Chuck did most of the machining and welding.

Today, the mill is a popular place for residents of Oakland and surrounding counties to visit; it was even featured on an episode of the Food Networks "Unwrapped" in 2009. But it wasn't always so easy to bring people to the site. Before Harry Yates, the original owner's grandson, sold the mill to the Posey family, he would give away cups of cider on Sundays--a method he later recalled being "pretty expensive advertising." Free samples drew takers from locations as far away as Bay

City, Port Huron, Boyne Falls, and even Windsor, Ontario.

Nearby mills in Livingston County have also drawn their fair share of visitors. From its earliest settlement, the county was noted for its "good apples and excellent cider," according to "A Brief of Horticulture in Michigan" by Charles William Garfield in 1884. But the cider mill that's best known in the area today didn't get into the cider business until 1969. Prior to that, the PARSHALLVILLE CIDER MILL, which sits alongside North Ore Creek near Fenton, was known as Tom Walker's Grist Mill.

When Tom Walker, the grandson of the original business owner, took over the business a year after his 1926 high school graduation, he turned the mill into a place for farmers to grind flour and never charged more than seven cents a bag. Walker operated the mill for 43 years and sold it in the late 1960s--a time when modern milling techniques had replaced stone grinding.

The mill's next owners, William and Sue Richards, then repurposed the site into a tourist attraction. Swapping water power for electricity and replacing the mill's roof, the couple converted the gristmill into a cider mill that would turn out hundreds of gallons of cider a week--but only sweet cider. As Sue explained in a 1971 newspaper article, "We want[ed] a place where couples [could] bring their children and find pleasure in the simple things of life without the aid of intoxicating liquor." Three years later, the building was listed on the State Register of Historic Sites.

Over the next 40 years, the mill was operated by several different families and owners--most recently Sandy and Jack Detlefs, who took over in 2004.The couple used to visit the mill with their children in the 1960s, and had previously operated the facility from 1983 to 1996. Today, their daughters and grandchildren help them run the business.

A trip to the DEXTER CIDER MILL is a simple pleasure that Washtenaw County residents have enjoyed for generations. The site, where Central Street crosses the Huron River, has been a milling locale since 1836. Peninsula Mills first used it to grind flour. Then a wool plant made yarn there for stockings and blankets. In 1886, the current mill was erected by a Mr. Tuttle and a Mr. Van Ettan for the purpose of producing cider. In the early 1900s, the mill was purchased by Otto Wagner. The Wagner family would produce cider there for 86 years before selling the establishment to the Koziski family.

According to a 1979 newsletter produced by the Washtenaw County Historical Society, "in the old days every farm had an orchard and families would bring their own apples [to the mill] for a barrel of cider to put in the basement." For a time, the mill owners disposed of pomace--the solid remains of fruit after pressing--in their water source and, later, in a landfill. Richard and Katherine Koziski, who bought the business in 1986, chose to recycle the remains into feed and fertilizer for local farmers.

The mill still works with locally grown and hand-picked apples and includes three to five different varieties in each pressing. Millers use a century-old oak rack press to produce their beverage.

As Katherine noted in "The Dexter Cider Mill Apple Cookbook," good cider is a combination of about 30 percent varieties high in sugar--such as Red and Golden Delicious--and 50 to 60 percent of apples high in acid--such as Jonathan or Northern Spy. The final 10 percent is dedicated to apples that are aromatic, such as Winter Banana.

Today, the Dexter mill is operated by the Koziskis' daughter Nancy Steinhauer and is considered the oldest continuously operated cider mill in the state.


Cider may be the initial result of an apple pressing, but it's not the only beverage or food product that can be made from the process. Please note these definitions are reflective of American usage only.

* Apple Juice: Raw apple juice that has been filtered to remove solids then pasteurized.

* Sweet Apple Cider: Raw apple juice that has not been filtered to remove pulp or sediment.

* Hard Apple Cider: Fermented apple juice, with 7 percent or less alcohol by volume (ABV).

* Apple Cider Vinegar: Cider that has fermented past the above stages. Vinegar can be used in salads, cooking, and/or pickling.

* Apple Wine: Fermented apple juice, with more than 7 percent ABV. Special yeasts and additional sugar are added during the fermentation process.

The cider mill at HISTORIC BOW-ENS MILLS, near Middleville in Barry County, also once served as an apple-pressing resource for area farmers. In 1864, E.H. Bowen purchased a sawmill, then added a three-story gristmill with two sets of French burr millstones. (As Marion Cook--who purchased the mill with her husband Neal in 1978--would later describe in "Living Twenty Years in a Historic Mill," these millstones were the best of their kind. In fact, "Two sets of French Burr Stones in a mill was like having two Cadilacs [sic] in your garage now a days.") In 1902, the Bowens acquired a 12-foot-tall Thomas-Albright Company cider press, which was housed in an addition built onto the mill, and the facility soon became famous for cider-making services as well as its buckwheat flour.

After the Bowens sold the operation in 1912, the facility changed ownership several times. In 1922, it was purchased by Elam and Minnie Springer, who repaired the mill after the nearby dam broke in 1943. (Muskrats digging around the dam had weakened the wall.) The Springers continued to use the facility to grind wheat and produce cider and vinegar up through 1953, when the mill ceased to operate as a business for the first time in more than 100 years.

In 1955, the mill was sold to Neal and Helen Engle, who primarily used the property to raise cucumbers. When the couple did make cider, they didn't rely upon water power nor did they use steam (which the sawmill had been converted to at the turn of the century). Instead, they connected the cider press to a tractor for their power source.

When the mill was taken over by the Cooks in the 1970s, it was in bad shape. As Marion would later recount, "the years of vandalism, disuse and slow deterioration had taken [their] toll." The couple spent many years focused on the facility's renovation.

Today, Historic Bowens Mills is operated by Carleen and Owen Sabin, the Cooks' daughter and son-in-law, who purchased it in 1997. be property, which also features the oldest one-room school in Barry County among other historic buildings, was listed on the state register in 1972.


While the businesses below aren't located in 19th-century mill buildings, they do have a longstanding cider-making tradition in Michigan.

* Wiard's Orchards and Country Fair in Ypsilanti was founded by George Wiard in 1837.

* Hill Brothers Orchards and Cider Mill in Grand Rapids has been family owned and operated since 1843.

* Parmenter's Northville Cider Mill was established when Benijah Parmenter used his Civil War mustering-out pay to start an apple cider and vinegar business in 1873.

* Alber Orchard and Cider Mill in Manchester began producing cider when an original Mount Gilead cider press was installed on site in 1890.

* Wolcott Orchards and Cider Mill in Mr. Morris has an orchard that dates back to 1899.

Don't see your favorite mill listed? Share your cider story on Michigan History's Facebook page on September 12.

Izzi Bendall is the editorial assistant at Michigan History and enjoys drinking cider year-round.
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Author:Bendall, Izzi
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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