Jul 28, 2014

Farmington's Winter Market Grows in a Historic Gem

The brick building on Grand River has a long history as a power house and Michigan winery.

Farmington's Winter Market Grows in a Historic Gem

Because I mark the seasons based on activity, rather than the calendar, winter in my world starts today with the run by Jean Smith of The Garden Gate Farm. 

I'm looking forward to seeing familiar faces among the vendors, along with friends who will certainly head over to the market's new location in the Old Winery building on Grand River, west of Orchard Lake Rd. But mostly, I am looking forward to spending time in that building, because of its interesting history.

The brick-red behemoth is an iconic fixture, a landmark with a tall smokestack that tells me I'm home as I drive back into town. But the building also has a story that goes back to a time when Farmington and the City of Detroit were linked by electric interurban cars.

Yes, folks, we once had mass transit that wasn't gas-powered. 

Built in 1898, the Old Winery was once a power house for the Detroit United Railway (DUR), which ran electric street and interurban cars on light rail in the City of Detroit and suburbs from 1900 through 1928. In the 1930s, LaSalle Winery acquired the building and installed concrete vats, some of which were converted into office spaces after the White family of Farmington bought the building in the mid-1970s.

They also created the Haunted Winery, which ceased operations two years ago, after a dispute with the City of Farmington over building issues. No scary figures will be jumping out of dark corners today; only vendors with names like Cheeky Monkey, Bayou Billy, Nahnee's Nibbles and – well, there's a big list – will occupy this amazing building. 

It brought power to downtown Farmington, so the city had streetlights before residents had electricity in their homes, and sent thousands of residents on their way from Farmington to points north, south, west and east. 

It housed Michigan's largest winery from the 1930s through the 1970s. According to The History of Michigan Wines, by 1941, La Salle Wine and Champagne Company was producing half of all the wine in the state. The company was eventually purchaed by St. Julian Winery. 

And now, it's home to what I am certain will become one of the finest winter farmers markets in the state. 

How cool is that?

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