15 Sep 2014
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Mills Provided Power in Farmington Township

At one time, eight mills operated in the Farmington area.

Mills Provided Power in Farmington Township

When Farmington Township was first settled in the 1820s, there was no Detroit Edison, or Consumers Energy. Virtually all the power needed was supplied by the pioneers themselves, in the form of muscle power from either animals or people. Houses, wagons, clothes, shoes, furniture, plowing the fields and more were all built and accomplished through sweat and hard work.

The first businesses set up in what would become the Village of Farmington included a shoemaker, blacksmith, and wagon maker, all completing their tasks by hand effort.

But not everything could be done by hand. The principal source of large scale power in the frontier in those days was water power. One of the great attractions of Farmington Township to the early settlers was abundant flowing streams that could be harnessed to provide the power needed to saw trees into boards and mill flour and grain at harvest time.

Today, we don’t rely on the streams for anything, and in fact most of us would have difficulty recalling just exactly where all these streams are located in our township. If you do stumble across one, you typically see a nearly dry bed with only a very small amount of water flowing (except during one of our monumental rainfalls). In looking at the streams today, it’s hard to imagine how they could have ever provided enough power to do any meaningful task.

Three things need to be understood though. First, it was common knowledge in the age of water power that huge, flowing, powerful streams running through virgin forests will gradually reduce in size and power as the trees are cut down and rainfall is diverted to water the farm fields. This means that any water powered venture would ultimately need to be converted to another form of power as more settlers enter the area.

Second, one factor in producing water power is the “head” of water that can conveniently be constructed. This was typically done by damming a portion of the stream ahead of where the power was needed, and ducting the water to the water wheel or water turbine downstream where the stream was a number of feet lower that the water level in the dam.

Greater power can be generated when the drop in water level from input to output is greater. Therefore, a hilly area with water running through it can make more power than a larger stream in a flatter area. Today, we may not be aware of the water’s potential power because we are not aware of the drop our streams go through on their trip through our area.

Lastly, we need to recall that we have vast underground streams in the form of our sewer system, which is designed to keep water out of today’s streams as much as possible.

For these reasons, it’s hard for us to envision the power potential these streams provided in the 19th century. It may be hard to believe, but these streams powered eight mills in the 1830s. Here is a list of those mills and their locations, illustrating just how prolific they were:

  • 1828 – George Tibbits Saw Mill – Just west of Inkster Road about ½ mile north of 11 Mile Road.
  • 1831 – Dr. Ebenezer Raynale Saw Mill – East of Middlebelt Road and south of 13 Mile Road.
  • 1833 – Dorus Morton Saw Mill – Northwest of the corner of Inkster Road and 14 Mile Road (within Farmington Township).
  • 1833 – Samuel Mansfield Saw Mill – West of Power Road between Grand River Road and Shiawassee Road.
  • 1833 – Darius Lamson Saw Mill – About ¼ mile east of Power Road south of Grand River Road.
  • 1835 – Samuel Power Grist Mill – Just south of Samuel Mansfield’s Saw Mill
  • 1835 – Rev. Eri Prince Saw Mill – South of Howard Road about ½ mile east of Halsted Road.
  • 1835 – Edward Steele & Brian French Saw Mill – Just east of Drake Road at the intersection with Howard Road.

Steam power was new at this time, and it did not come to Farmington until about 40 years later. These saw mills were of the upright or up and down type. The earlier historic homes in the area contain boards cut on these mills which have the tell-tale parallel saw kerf marks oriented across the width of the boards.

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