By Billy Craig
Wolcott Mill was officially born in 1847. A Ray Township miller named Arad Freeman constructed a grain and feed mill on the banks of the north branch of the Clinton River in northern Macomb County. In 1989, the mill re-opened as part of the 2,625-acre Wolcott Mill Metropark. The park consists of four independent sites that provide unforgettable experiences in a peaceful, rustic setting.
In 1847, America was sowing the seeds of social, political, and economic change while stretching the continent and pushing toward the great Pacific Ocean. The year brought the births of great minds such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell and saw the first postage stamp from the U.S. Post Office. It brought the abolitionist paper, called the North Star by Frederick Douglass, and the beginnings of the humanitarian efforts of Clara Brown, founder of the American Red Cross. Henry David Thoreau was busy writing Walden and a young Mark Twain was dreaming of one day becoming a steamboat pilot. An aspiring Abraham Lincoln took his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as the wheels of change kept turning.
Here at home, the State of Michigan passed a law that would relocate our state capital from Detroit to Lansing. Even closer to home, in Macomb County, the mill on the banks of the Clinton River was purchased by Fred B. Wolcott in 1878. Wolcott was born in 1845. As a young man, he worked for a Pennsylvania sawmill until moving to Wisconsin in 1865. Fred’s search for his dream destination led him to travel, moving to Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and California. Eventually, he returned to Nebraska, where his father had settled, to make a life for himself.
For nine years Fred was busy with marriage, having kids, and improving his own Nebraska homestead. In 1878, he made the fateful trade for what would, eventually, be known as Wolcott Mill, right here in Macomb County. By rebuilding part of the mill and adding machinery and a new barn, Fred did very well. Known for its high-quality flour, the Wolcott Mill supplied a number of large Detroit bakeries that included Acme Pie and Oven King Cookies. Fred operated the mill until at least 1905, until its eventual closing in 1967.
Today, Wolcott Mill Metropark visitors can experience the 100 year old history of Wolcott Mill. Just a few miles down the road there is a late 20th century, working farm. If you bring your clubs, you can play the 18-hole golf course in the greenery and wide-open space. To top off your Norman Rockwell style moments, you can relax, in solitude, along the north branch of the Clinton River at Camp Rotary.
Guests can experience the feeling of a simpler time at the mill. The river runs through the property along a beautiful millpond. The property boasts the mill, antique farming equipment, a restored Model T dump truck and garage, and a quaint gazebo that is often used for weddings. It’s wonderful to see the original milling machinery that is still in place. There are two midget marvel roller mills that were used to grind grains, and other machinery used for milling.
Meet and greet the stars of a 250-acre working farm by saying hello and making new friends. Wolcott Mill Farm is the only known public farm, in the state of Michigan, that houses all six heritage breeds of dairy cow, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Jersey, Milking Short Horn and Holstein, year-round.
There’s a wide variety of animals including miniature and draft horses, multiple species of sheep and goats as well as a wide variety of farm fowl. There are gardens and a greenhouse. When available, you can take a horse-drawn wagon ride through the crop fields or you can bring your horse to ride along 10 miles of trails through the woods, meadows and along the Clinton River. If you don’t have your own horse, the beautifully wooded trails are available for hiking. Bring your imagination. The atmosphere at Wolcott Mill Metropark will take care of the rest!
Susan Schmidt, Park Operations Manager of the Wolcott Mill Metropark, has been quite involved in the local and regional food system since moving to Michigan in 2001. During her several years at The Henry Ford, she created and marketed food and agriculture through daily offerings and special events that focused on Michigan’s products and producers.
Additionally, Susan is the founding board chair of FSEP, the Food System Economic Partnership and she has a long-standing relationship with the Greening of Detroit. She also served, for several years, on the coordinating committee for the annual Live, Love, Local event at Eastern Market in Detroit.
Currently, Schmidt serves on the board of the Michigan Agritourism Association, where she promotes the Wolcott Metropark Farm Center and the many other agricultural related sites and businesses in Macomb County and Southeastern Michigan.
Capturing a moment in time is the magnificent gift of historical preservation. It allows the public, from whom that history came, to celebrate, experience and respect the work done by those who came before us. There are amazing things to see, right here in our own Macomb County backyard. Walking the steps of our forefathers allows us to experience what it means to be American in a way that helps us truly take in and appreciate our rich culture. It took hearty souls and strong hands to cut an existence in the wilderness. So many elements contribute to that mosaic image of survival, one of them right here at Wolcott Mill Metropark.
Wolcott Mill Metropark Farm Center is located at 65775 Wolcott Road in Ray Township.
Farm Center Park Hours:
9 am – 5 pm Daily
Farm Center – 586-752-5932
Historic Center Park Hours:
Friday – Sunday 9 am – 5 pm
Historic Center – 586-749-5997
Wolcott Mill Golf Course: Open
Call (586) 749-3415 for tee times.
Wolcott Mill Metropark is part of the Huron-Clinton Metroparks. A regional special park district within Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Livingston counties.