Thursday, June 1, 2023

Historic Buildings Brought To Life: The Loranger Gristmill

As I drive down the busy thoroughfare of Gratiot Avenue or any of our  "main drags"  here in metro-Detroit,  I quite often think of how it once looked 150+ years ago---what type of businesses were here...and also imagining the surrounding farmland.  Because of my research,  including local research,  I do have a very fair idea of the lay of the land as it looked in centuries past,  so knowing about the differing occupations,  I can almost  "see"  the past  (and my  "Images of America"  books certainly help!).
Gotta love the research!
Like the Eagle Tavern,  I had written about the Loranger Gristmill of Monroe, Michigan numerous times before,  but it was always in a posting either with other mills or about its importance during the fall harvest.  Well,  like  "The Eagle,"  the Loranger Gristmill deserves its own post as well.
And here  'tis!


So,  we were driving along Telegraph Road in Monroe,  Michigan,  and,  as I looked to my right,  through the passenger window,  I said,  "I think that's it."  I turned onto South Stony Creek Road.  I crept the car up and pulled into a parking lot of a business that didn't seem to be too busy.  My friend was with me and we both exited my vehicle.  I said,  "Over there is where it used to be."  and we crossed South Stony Creek Road.  I could hear the creek running,  and soon I could see it.  Then,  through information given to me by a friend who has worked at Greenfield Village for close to 40 years,  I stepped up to the old bridge there,  and I glanced again at that information written on a piece of paper:  You can see the old bridge to the West of Telegraph.  They moved the Gristmill because that bridge was being built.  
We're here!
This is the very spot that the Loranger Gristmill once stood before Henry Ford had it brought over to his Greenfield Village!
Where you see this bridge over Stoney Creek,  all covered in leaves and a bit of snow,  is the original location of the Loranger Gristmill that Edward Loranger built in 1832 and is now inside the brick walls of Greenfield Village.
Edward Loranger was born in Three Rivers,  Quebec,  in 1796.  A brick mason,  he moved to Frenchtown in the territory of Michigan in 1816  to help build a church  (Frenchtown became Monroe in 1817,  named after the then current President,  James Monroe).
Loranger remained in the Michigan territory and,  in 1822,  purchased the land on which his house is still located.  He became one of the most prominent landowners and architects in early Monroe,  and constructed many buildings in the area,  including houses and stores.  He built his own house in 1826,  which still stands in its original spot.
On the left we have the house that Mr.  Loranger built in 1826.  Directly across the street,  where you see that little patch of snow on the right,  was where he built his gristmill...
The house fell into disrepair over the years but was restored in 1941.  It was during this restoration that the dormers were added to the roof.  The house remains privately owned.
Here is the restored 1832 Loranger Gristmill as it now sits inside Greenfield Village.
So,  just what is a gristmill?
It is usually a fairly large building in which grain would be ground into flour used for baking bread and cakes and the like.  There were two types of flour-making mills:  a gristmill was a mill used exclusively for grinding grain for local consumption,  while a merchant mill was a mill in which flour was ground and packed for sale.
We'll concentrate mainly on gristmills rather than merchant mills for today's post,  since that was what the Loranger Gristmill was.
From colonial times and into the first half of the nineteenth century,  gristmills flourished in America by meeting an important local need in agricultural communities:  grinding the farmers'  grain into flour.  
What do you see when you look upon this field of wheat?
I see bread,  cakes,  pie crusts...
There are records of gristmills dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries here in North America,  though not all people used them.  
Here is an ancient hand mill or quern stone, 
grinding the grain by hand into flour.

(Pic courtesy of Getty Images)
Even with the availability of gristmills,  there were many farmers who would take to the grinding of grain into flour by hand by using a hand quern,  which would have been used when no other means of grinding wheat into flour was available.  The quern,  a tool from the iron age,  was like a mini-gristmill and might be used when one moved into a new settlement where no gristmill had been built yet.  Of course,  the manner of using a quern was not only a tedious task,  but it took an excessive amount of time to get enough flour worth baking.
So if one settled where there was a gristmill somewhat in the general vicinity,  (even within a day's journey),  it was a welcome sight.

Shortly we will get into the inner workings of the mill,  but before that...without growing and preparing the wheat,  there would be no reason to even visit the miller,  unless it was a merchant miller.
The farmer would grow the wheat,  and from the time of the earliest agriculture up until well into the 19th century  (and even into the 20th century),  cutting down the wheat was done by hand,  most often with a scythe:
The use of a scythe is traditionally called mowing,  but now it is often called scything to distinguish it from machine mowing. 
According to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation,  wheat was harvested by cutting the straw near the ground with a hooked hand  “sickle”  or  “reaphook;”  or mown with a  “cradle scythe.”  The cut wheat was gathered in bundles and tied into  “sheaves.”  Sheaves were then stacked upright into small stands called  “shocks.”  These temporary stacks were soon transferred out of the field to larger outdoor stacks,  or housed if possible,  to await threshing.  Threshing is the way to knock the wheat kernels off of the rest of  the plant...
That was then:  threshing with a flail~
A flail is an agricultural tool that was used to thresh the wheat,  separating the grains from the husks manually,  which needed strong arms and backs and persistence.  The flail was the way it was done until threshing machines took over in the later 19th century.
Threshing was conducted by beating the wheat heads,  thereby separating the wheat berries from their  “chaff”  (or husk)  and supporting straw.  To flail,  one stick is held and swung,  causing the other to strike a pile of grain,  loosening the husks.  Cleaning the wheat commenced with removal of the long straw.  This process could occur throughout the late summer,  fall,  and winter months.
But the times they would soon be a-changing,  for by the mid-19th century there were threshing machines.
A  'modern'  late 19th-century threshing machine...

~Winnowing Basket~
To catch the grain.
Once the wheat was threshed,  the remaining wheat,  chaff,  and dust mix were put into a basket and tossed up into the air where the wind would catch the husks and blow them away,  leaving cleaned grain behind to fall back into the basket.  This process was known as winnowing. 
Winnowing also separated weevils or other pests stored in the grain.  The cleaned wheat was stored in a granary and then taken to a local mill.
Fortunately,  most settlements had a gristmill not too distant away.
It was the water-powered gristmills housed in great two or three story structures situated near a stream that tended to be the most popular means of making flour from the wheat.  And it's the water-wheel mill that this post concentrates on.
Folks would haul their yield miles to go to the nearest water wheel mill,  sometimes taking a day or more for travel time.  But their return - flour for baking - could carry them over for months as bread,  pie crusts,  cakes,  biscuits,  and so on.
My horse and cart hold the bags of grain as I move up to the 
Loranger Gristmill to work out the cost of having my wheat ground.
However,  my manner of colonial dress would have been considered quite old-fashioned by 1832,  when Edward Loranger built this mill.  

As described by David Larkin in the book,  Mill:
(The miller)  knew the intricacies of the mill and carried repairs when needed,  if necessary remaking parts himself;  he was a good judge of  the density and content of the grain,  which varied with a wet or dry harvest and the skill used in threshing and winnowing,  and had many opportunities for sharp practice.  He would run through a sample with his finger and thumb,  calculate its value,  and made his wealth that way.
Click to enlarge the drawing,
which points out the parts of a mill.
There are no quick starts or stops in an old mill.  In starting the mill,  usually with a wooden lever,  water would be released gradually until the wheel,  which runs the entire mill,  was running at the desired speed.  In doing this,  the entire building would shudder,  for each part of the mechanism would begin to do its job,  including the spiked wooden wheels inside the mill,  which were made of oak mesh and the spiked teeth made of apple or hickory wood,  which controlled the rest of the mechanism.
The sacks of grain to be ground had to be taken up to the third floor of the mill where it will be emptied into the grain storage bin.  On the second floor is where the miller will ensure the grain is sliding down the chute to the hopper,  which has a funnel-like appearance.  Its flow is controlled by an angled wooden shoe and by the action of the dansil,  most often called the damsel,  a device attached atop the spindle that taps the shoe and will shake an even amount into the millstones at every revolution.  On the first floor,  the hopper disperses the grain to two large burr stones assembled from hard granite.  The capstone,  which is movable,  revolves barely above the lower stone,  which remains stationary.  It is this lower stone which has furrows carefully carved into it to help guide the flour to the waiting bins ready to be sacked for the customer.
The Sluice is like a trough on the side of the building, which takes its water from the mill pond and stores it until the lever to begin the milling procedure is pulled.  I was at a working gristmill in another location,  and the entire building truly did shake as the water power from the sluice turned the large stone wheels used for grinding.  (Unfortunately,  since that visit,  they changed it over from sluice and water power to,  instead,  flipping a switch for electric power,  which changed the entire dynamics.  It was no longer the same,  which is a great shame) 
You can make out the sluice in this photograph.

The turning wheels could grind one barrel of flour  (whole wheat or buckwheat)  or corn meal an hour.  
You can easily see the furrows in the Loranger grindstones.

The Loranger  "hopper,"  from which the grain slides down into from the chute,  has a funnel-like appearance.  The hopper disperses the grain to the stones to be ground and emptied out into the flour bin, ready to be sacked for the customer,  which would help to sustain them for months to come.

So now let's learn a little on this particular historical building of which played its own part in the building of America:  
This mill was constructed by Edward Loranger,  a brick mason from Quebec,  who originally came down to the southeast corner of Michigan to help erect a church.  Loranger stayed on in the new country,  feeling the new settlement needed a grist and saw mill  (of which he also built).  Loranger himself hewed oak timbers for beams,  he cut whitewood siding with a broad axe,  and cut logs for a dam in the river to impound the water for power to turn the wheels.  And he worked the mill as described above,  staying long hours in the autumn days as the main harvest came in.  Loranger also would run his saw mill as needed,  so I would imagine he employed numerous locals to help him out.
According to The History of Monroe County Michigan,  Edward Loranger was very popular and well-respected by all who knew him.
Loranger died in 1887.
Henry Ford purchased the 1832 Loranger Gristmill,  located on Sunny Creek near
Monroe,  Michigan,  in January of 1928.  It was one of the few structures moved to
his newly created Greenfield Village in Dearborn,  Michigan without prior disassembly.
After Greenfield Village opened to the general public in 1933,  the interest and activity around the Loranger Gristmill grew as the sights and sounds of the spinning,  grinding wheels gave the public a first-hand glimpse of an earlier age.  
The mill sits now as a museum piece:  the grinding wheels are there,  but they no longer grind;  the water wheel spins,  but just for show;  the store no longer sells the flour or corn meal once ground here at the gristmill as it once did when Greenfield Village was new.
But,  visiting the mill in person,  if the opportunity arises,  is a good way to help keep,  at least,  the vision alive,  for all of the inner workings are still there,  and are also here through words and photographs.
By 1832 his mill was up and running,  sitting on the Stoney Creek near US 24 
(Telegraph Rd),  looking much as we can see in this photo.
It is one of my favorite structures inside Greenfield Village - that old Loranger Gristmill we've been talking about,  now nearly 200 years old.
What Edward Loranger erected on that original site was a true necessity for the surrounding community,  and was popular until the modern age took over,  and the electric and much faster mills took precedence and left these old mills in the dust,  so to speak.   Modern mills typically use electricity or fossil fuels to spin the heavy steel,  cast iron,  serrated,  and flat rollers.  Stone-ground flour,  however,  is still preferred by many bakers and natural food advocates because of its texture,  nutty flavor,  and the belief that it is nutritionally superior and has a better baking quality than the modern steel-roller-milled flour.
I wonder if my grain has been processed yet...?
You can imagine that I was pretty ecstatic to find,  on that late winter day in 2022,  the very location where the Loranger Gristmill was originally built.  And I laughed at myself knowing that I passed that very spot numerous times before without realizing!  But when I learned the original location,  I made sure to make a point to visit;  there's just something special when one walks on such  "hallowed"  ground.
Here is an actual photograph taken at the turn of the 20th century,  and in it we can
see the Loranger Gristmill there 
on the left in its original location.

In this photo I am standing where the gristmill once stood and looking toward the
Loranger House,  where the miller,  Edward Loranger,  lived.
The Loranger Gristmill is a wonderfully important piece of our past,  showing a slice of  Michigan's 19th century history of which most modern folks hardly ever give a second thought.
My own recreation of the Loranger Gristmill in its original location
using a little computer magic.


Greenfield Village is Americana past at its finest.  Of all the historic structures placed inside that long serpentine wall,  only two building did not originate in this country:  The Edison Homestead  (belonged to the Canadian grandparents of  Thomas Edison),  and the Cotswold Cottage collection - cottage,  dovecote,  and forge  (all of  which came from England).  Otherwise you are strolling through over 400 years of American history.  The oldest American structure is the Plympton House,  built in Massachusetts in the early 1700s.  The Mattox House is presented as it was in the 1930s,  so its presentation is the newest at this time.
And then there's everything in between,  from farming to city life,  from the unknowns to the well-knowns,  from artisans to store owners...Greenfield Village is truly a magical place representing our great American history.

Until next time,  see you in time.

To read about the structures I've located from before Michigan became a state,  please click HERE
To read on other Greenfield Village homes and structures I researched,  please click the following links:

Ackley Covered Bridge 1832
At one time, covered bridges were commonplace. Not so much anymore. But Greenfield Village has one from 1832.

Daggett House  (part one)
Learn about the 18th century house and the family who lived there.

Daggett House  (part two)
This concentrates more on the everyday life of the 18th century Daggett family,  including ledger entries.

Doc Howard's Office - The World of a 19th century Doctor
It's 1850 and you're sick.  Who are you going to call on?  Why,  good ol'  Doc Howard,  of course!

Taverns were the heart and soul and pipeline of early America.  The Eagle Tavern,  built in 1831,  is one of the most famous of its time on Old US 12,  and still is today at Greenfield Village.
Here's why.

~Edison Posts:
Tales of Everyday Life in Menlo Park (or Francis Jehl: A Young Boy's Experience Working at Menlo Park)
Menlo Park is brought to life by one who was there. First-hand accounts.

Follow the route that Thomas Edison took as he rode and worked on the rails in the early 1860s,  including the Smiths Creek Depot.
The oldest windmill on Cape Cod is not on cape Cod - - it's in Michigan!
Lots of interesting things about this wonderful piece of Americana from 1633.

Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village
Learn about the boyhood home of Harvey Firestone, the tire magnate.

The Giddings House
Revolutionary War and possible George Washington ties are within the hallowed walls of this beautiful stately colonial home.

Recreating this store to its 1880s appearance was extremely important as the overall goal,  and so accurately reproduced items were needed to accomplish the end result,  for many original objects were rare or too fragile,  with some being in too poor condition.  

Research has shown that,  as a young attorney,  Abraham Lincoln once practiced law in this walnut clapboard building.  I think this post will make you realize just how close to history you actually are when you step inside.

Built in the late 18th century,  with some slight modifications from its original style,  this is one of the oldest original American log cabins still in existence.  

General overview.
These buildings were once a part of everyday life in American villages and towns and cities - including the Gunsolly Carding Mill,  the Loranger Gristmill,  Farris Windmill,  Hanks Silk Mill,  Cider Mill,  and the Spofford and the Tripps Saw Mills,  all in one post!

Noah Webster House
A quick overview of the life of this fascinating but forgotten Founding Father whose home, which was nearly razed for a parking lot, is now located in Greenfield Village.

The Plympton House
This house,  with its long history  (including American Indians)  has close ties to Paul Revere himself!

Preserving History
Henry Ford did more for preserving everyday life of the 18th and 19th centuries than anyone else! Here's proof.

Richart Carriage Shop
This building was much more than a carriage shop in the 19th century!

And for some haunted fun, 
Ghosts of Greenfield Village
Yep - real hauntings take place in this historic Village.

Yes,  some of the structures that now sit inside Greenfield Village have connections to America's fight for Independence.

Virtually each structure inside Greenfield Village has come from another location,  I took on a project to seek out the original locations of many of the more localized buildings and visited where they first were built and walked that hallowed ground.

Homes that played a role in our country's fight for Independence.

This post is part history and part family history:  a blending of the two.  And one way to show how you can place your ancestors in their time.

Saving Americana - that's what Henry Ford did - and in doing so he showed everyone the importance of  everyday life history.  This is how it all began.   

Nothing is placed randomly inside the structures at Greenfield Village.  The curators carefully consider each and every object before allowing it to become part of the site. 
And the Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford covers over 250 years of fashion  (from 1760 onward)  and is the  premier museum costume shop in the country.

Pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph under each one  (lol).
My most popular posting ever!

~   ~   ~

1 comment:

Jack Bohm said...

Have you visited the Isaac Ludwig Mill in Grand Rapids OH? It’s a functional mill. On its original site.