I had the honor and pleasure of attending my first ever SPOOM Conference October 12-15. What is SPOOM? It stands for the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills. It is an international organization dedicated to promoting interest in old mills and other Americana now quickly passing from the present scene. SPOOM was formed as a non-profit in 1972. Which means they are celebrating a 50th Anniversary right along with Darke County Parks!
Once a year, they gather together for an annual conference to tour as many mills as possible in just a few short days. Luckily for my 8-year old son, Jacob, his fall break just happened to be on the same days, so he got to travel and explore old mills with mom.
The night before our touring started, we stayed in the Millhouse B&B in Grand Rapids, Ohio. This was an old mill, but no longer has any milling equipment in it. The owners are wonderful and we enjoyed exploring the town and tow path.
Day one of the conference started at the Isaac Ludwig Mill in Grand Rapids. Here we were privileged enough to take a canal boat ride. The canal was pulled by two real donkeys along the tow path, and the boat crew told stories and sang songs. Then we traveled to Archbold, Ohio where we ate lunch and visited Sauder Village. Sauder Village is a living history museum and farm. As Ohio’s largest historic village, you take a wonderful walk through time. The village, of course, includes a water powered grist mill. You also get full interaction with each historic tradesman – not something you get everywhere you go! If you plan to visit Sauder Village, make sure you set aside plenty of time. Our 2-hour stop was not enough. Our third stop for the day was in Bellevue, Mich. We received a tour of the privately-owned Gothic Mill. Bill and Carol Jean Stockhausen bought the rundown mill in 1977, and has been producing water-powered electricity back to the grid since 1982. The family then slowly over the last 30 years remodeled the entire building to make it their summer home.
Day 2 involved traveling to Goshen, Ind. to tour the Bonneyville Mill. Also owned by a Park District, this is where I learned a lot of insight and added to my ‘someday’ list. In Buchanan, Mich. we toured Pears Mill. This mill sits right downtown and holds a miniature mill museum! Our final mill tour was my son Jacob’s favorite. In Holland, Mich. where they hold the annual Tulip Festival, we were able to tour a wind-powered grist mill. This beautiful structure impressed us all. Windmills are not as spacious as the water powered mills, but we were able to walk up all 6 flights and learn how they grind grain with the wind. A lot of travelling but well worth it!
During our trips around the corners of three states, I met people passionate about old mills and their preservation. The information learned, connections, and friendships made were immensely valuable to this ‘newbie’ in the old milling world. I feel fortunate to have been a part of the experience, and hope to get the chance to attend more SPOOM conferences in the future.
SPOOM memberships are open to anyone who shares the interests and purposes of SPOOM. For more information, visit www.spoom.org. If you want to hear more about the mills I visited on my trip feel free to call or email me at 937-548-5112 or [email protected]. All the mills we visited were within a 2-4 hour drive from Greenville.