The Highland Township Historical Society
Highland, Oakland County, Michigan



The Story Of Spring Mills
Henry J. DeGarmo

A feature of the program of the recent meeting of the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society at Pontiac was the story of Spring Mills.  The once thriving hamlet in Highland in pioneer times it was the trading center of the township, but now little is left save the mill and a cluster of houses.  The data for the paper was secured and written by Miss Anna and Harry DeGarmo.


The first men mentioned connected with Spring Mills in any records we have access to were Jonas G. Potter and Major F. Lockwood.  The first plat of Spring Mills was made for them by one L. L. Armstrong in August, 1846, and in 1859 there was an addition to this plat made for Major Lockwood, to whom Potter [sic] had sold his interests.

In the summer of 1846 Potter and Lockwood erected a saw mill on the Pettibone Creek, which flows along the east side of the plot.   This saw mill, however, was not properly in the village, but about 80 rods south of the south end of the same at the identical site of the vinegar works in after years, about 20 rods north of the Highland road [Note 1] and across the road from the Dodge Park of Highland.  The village and mill site are both located on the east half of the southeast quarter of section 22, of Highland township.  This mill burned a few years later and was never replaced.

The flouring mill was built in 1856 and is doing business at this date, March 1, 1834.  It was built and operated by Major Lockwood for a little over three years when it was sold to a J. B. Baker of Detroit.  It was a stone mill and continued as such until about 1900 when it was remodeled into a roller mill [Note 2]It has had many owners, but has been owned and operated by the present owner, John Maugh, for the last 20 years or more.

There were two blacksmith and wood-working shops in this village, and insofar as we can ascertain Robert Taylor was the first to devote his whole time to the trade.  There are no recorded dates as to the starting of these shops, but Mr. Taylor had been some here some time [Note 3] before my grandfather, Henry E. DeGarmo, came to Highland March 7, 1861.  However, the dates very likely would be about the time or soon after the starting of the grist mill.  Peter Kunkle was the other smith coming later directly from Germany and acquired one of these shops in which he continued his trade so long as he lived, continuing in one place more years than any other blacksmith in the township.

Lester G. St. John operated a wood-working shop in the village for some years.  Note dates as to when he started, but probably 1859 or 1860.  This shop was powered by a wind mill, which was designed and made by Mr. St. John.  The gears, of course, were cast but the rest of the mill was made by hand.  About 1875 Mr. St. John built a larger shop at Highland Station and moved his mill over there for power.  However, it was afterward enlarged as his power was insufficient to run the machinery he had installed.  The new mill was 28 feet in diameter.  He manufactured window sash and blinds along with other articles and used this power for re-sawing and planing for many of the buildings he and his brothers, George, Charles, Enos and Henry, built in the surrounding country.

At the lower dam (saw mill site) in 1867, a cider mill was built by Chester M. Chatfield, who in a few years sold the same to J. B. Crouse, who enlarged it into what was known as the Highland Cider and Vinegar Works, which did a thriving buiness until about 1900 when it became the property of a Saginaw firm and was dismantled and moved to Saginaw.  In its flourishing days this plant gave work to about 20 men the year around, and 50 or more at certain times of the year.  The vinegar at first was made from apples, but after three or four years part of it was made from corn (shipped in from the west), rye and some wheat.  These grains were ground, then processed, the mash fed to cattle and hogs.  The juice [was] pumped through large vats filled with birch shavings to purify and sour same.  About all it lacked was going through the "worm" to make it into good "liker" and it has been said that some of it saw the worm [Note 4].  Jack Soper from Canada was the first superintendent and the man who knew the then secret.  About 3,000 barrels of vinegar was produced each year.  There was a large cooper shop in connection with the factory but its location was at Highland across the road from the depot.


Enos Leek, who came from New Haven, Conn., located on a farm a mile south of the Dodge Park site on Sec. 35 of Highland township in the fall of 1836.  He came to Michigan, locating land near Ann Arbor on October 8, 1823.  From there he came to Highland in 1836.  He lived on the farm until 1856 whe[n] he moved to Spring Mills and sold goods in the mill office.  In 1858 he erected a store and dwelling combined (frame) which he occupied until his death.  His was the first store in the village. [Note: next line partially obscured] ... account book started in New Haven and brought along to Michigan, apparently contained most, if not all of his debit and credit accounts, did a considerable buying and selling of articles other than from the farm while living thereon.  Prices ran like this: Oxen $75.00; oats 30c to 72c; wheat $1.00 to $1.50; brick $3.00 per M [i.e., thousand]; beef, veal and hides all sold at 3c per pound.  It is said that he carried many of his store foods upon his back from Detroit, making the trip 80 miles in a single day [Note 5].  This store building is occupied by his great-grandson, Fred Leek, Jr., as a dwelling.  The record book is the property of Fred Leek, Sr., and should be preserved.

Mr. Leek was town clerk, treasurer, justice and supervisor of the township at various times and apparently the neighborhood lawyer.  He [line partially obscured] ... postmaster of the village and township, being appointed in 1857, and held the office so long as it remained at Spring Mills.  He relinquished the same Jan. 1, 1874, when it was moved to Highland Station.

In his store records appear these items: (same date) to 4 yrds. print 56c; by 2 1/2  doz eggs 15c.  This was before the war.

Shortly after Mr. Leek built his store, Joseph Stratton built another store and dwelling combined and operated the same for probably 20 years or more.   Then the trade gradually drifted to Highland and Clyde, which sprang up in the township when the railroad was built and started operations.  This building still stands and is occupied as a dwelling by John Matison.

Mr. Stratton, according to township records (which I have access to) surveyed and laid out most of the Highways in Highland township as well as some in Milford, White Lake and Rose in Oakland county and several in Tyrone, Hartland, and Brighton townships in Livingston.  He was also supervisor and clerk of the township.

James H. Beaumont also had a store at Spring Mills which he operated 10 or 12 years.

The Hall

About the time the grist mill was built (said mill being at the foot of the ridge and back of the street, which is at the top of the ridge) there was a hall built on the level with the street.  This hall was about 80 feet in length and standing on large posts which formed stalls in front of the mill, in which to tie and feed the teams.  These stalls were more than full day after day.  This hall had various uses such as dancing hall, then partitioned off at one end which was used as shoe shop, store, living apartments, saloon, etc.  About 1880 it was cut in two, moved across the street, and to the north and is now a part of two dwellings.  I think the first boot and shoe shop was in this hall and operated by Amos K. Clark.  Later there was another boot and shoe shop at the south end of the village operated by a Mr. Ashley.   Mr. Ashley's grandson is the Highland barber at present.

Township meetings were held in the hall for a few years. 

It has been said that there were three saloons in this village.   We find no records to verify this assertion.  However, records of township meetings for 1845, 1846, 1848 and 1851 record the following votes respectively, yes 48, no 68; 20 and 80; 41 and 47; 80 and 44; 40 and 78.  These votes were taken in "log house times" and if licenses were ever granted some of them may have been at West Highland.

My Recollections of Major Lockwood

As a small boy I went with my mother to Mrs. Lockwood's for the day and of course dinner.  Naturally I had on my good clothes and was not allowed to play with the children in the street (Spring Mills at that time was noted for kids) but had to stay in the house.  Mr. Lockwood was feeble, hair and long whiskers white.  He sat in the house all day wearing a plug hat.  Dinner was announced and he with the use of two canes got to the table.  When all were seated he removed his hat, putting it on the floor, returned thanks, replaced his hat on his head and waited table, and this is about all I remember about the dinner.

Harry J. DeGarmo
Highland, Michigan

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Henry J. "Harry" DeGarmo was born October 8, 1866, the son of Archibald Denniston ("A.D.") and Emily Cornelia (Olmsted) DeGarmo.   See the DeGarmo Family Photo Album for more on this family.  As noted in the introductory paragraph, this item was originally presented to a meeting of the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society; presumably on March 1, 1934, being the date mentioned in the third paragraph.  It was subsequently published in the Milford Times for March 16, 1934.  Photos and additional information about the history of Spring Mills can be found in the Spring Mills Historic Photo Tour.

Note 1 - The "Highland road" is current East Livingston Road. 

Note 2 - A traditional "stone mill" grinds grain between two round millstones: a fixed "bed stone" on the bottom and a rotating "runner stone" on top.  The "roller mill" - introduced in the 19th century - grinds the grain between rotating metal rollers.

Note 3 - The first "some" is obviously redundant.

Note 4 - Vinegar can be made from any form of alcohol, e.g., cider vinegar from "hard" cider, wine vinegar from fruit wines, etc.  In this case the Highland Cider and Vinegar Works produced both cider and malt vinegar; the latter being made from fermented grain (essentially a crude beer or ale).  The term "worm" refers to the coiled tubing used to condense alcohol in an old-fashioned still.  DeGarmo is thus saying that the alcoholic mash used to produce the vinegar could likewise have been (and some say was) distilled to make "liker" (liquor).

Note 5 - While barely possible, this seems excessive.  The average walking speed for an adult is 3 miles per hour or 72 miles in a 24-hour period with no stops.  So too, any march over 15 miles in one day is generally considered a "forced march" for trained infantry.



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