The First Cider Pressing of the Season as Bowens Mills
Over 30 years of Preserving History

September 26 & 27 begins three weekends of rejoicing the harvest season. As a family welcomes back the public, to celebrate another year of cidering at Bowens Mills.

Hot apple dumplins', cider pressing on an antique press & cornmeal that is ground on the original equipment used in 1864, along with horse drawn rides, live music, an antique tractor display, a farm animal petting area and much more. As the celebration of the harvest season and a place in time, begins at Bowens Mills "Cider Time Festivals" with old time family fun.

More than 30 years ago the late Neal Cook and his wife Marion with the help of their children, grand children, family and friends all joined together to resurrect a 19th- century water powered cider press located in an old mill near Middleville, Michigan. With great anticipation they watched as the first cider came oozing from the cider blankets and the huge press chugged along. There were big smiles and giggles of excitement as they sipped the first cider that day, and every fall from that year forward the fun continued. Today the second generation of millers, Owen & Carleen Sabin, take their turn offering, the sights and sips of cidering through the fall harvest festival time at the old mill.

The gigantic cider press, (which was not new at the time) was moved to the mill property in 1902. The old timers tell how it was in the old days, when horses and wagons loaded with their apples were lined all the way back into town, waiting their turn at the press. Today folks come from miles around to see the past live again as bushel and bushels of apples are made into gallons and gallons of cider on the old press.

A complex mixture of gears, pulleys, and belts rumble, clank and rattle overhead as a water-powered conveyor belt marches apples toward a giant, knife-filled hopper; the fruit is chopped into a huge apple salad. As every five bushels are processed, workers tuck them inside a cotton cloth to keep the skin and pulp inside. Up to seven layers consisting of five bushels each can be piled on top of each other for each pressing. After the layers are stacked up, the miller cranks a gear to place the apple pulp underneath a 50-ton press. Then it is a simple matter of waiting for the water pumps to build up enough pressure inside the cylindrical press to squeeze every last drop of sweet apple cider.

The 12-foot-tall press takes half an hour to press 100 gallons of cider from 35 bushels of apples. It is powered by the water from the mill pond, which originates at Barlow Lake, then passes through the mill and continues to Payne Creek and then to Payne Lake and eventually emptying into Gun Lake. The old press was moved into the mill used over 100 years ago and is still continues to press today for demonstration.

A tasty cider requires a mixture of apples. The best mixture would be some tart apples with some sweet apples and some acidy apples. Such a mixture could be Mackintosh, some Spy, and some Red Delicious. Some people even add pears to the press to give the cider a bit of a bite.

The process is the same as hundreds of years ago, but the names of the apples have changed from Russet, Pippin, and Maiden's Blush to Jonathan, Macintosh, Rome and Spy.

The process for creating sweet apple cider remains virtually unchanged from the time that William Blaxton, a colonial settler, planted the first apple orchard on the slope of Boston's Beacon Hill. The ingredients of real apple cider are simple: apples. No preservatives, no added colors, sugars or chemicals - just apples, apples and more apples. Since colonial times, when John Adams drank a tankard of cider every morning before breakfast, cider pressing has been a familiar sight at the harvest festival.

Autumn is a season of aromas, a time to taste what the summer has spent creating. Orchards full of ripe red apples dangling from gnarly, black branches seem to beacon an indulgence of the harvest.

Although orange juice is the number one fruit juice today, before 1930 apple juice was more popular. What's the difference between apple juice and cider? Pure cider is unpasteurized and has no additives; pasteurized cider on the other hand is heated to kill bacteria and may contain additives. One six-ounce glass of cider contains only 87 calories along with calcium, potassium, iron and ascorbic acid. Drinking an eight ounce glass is like eating three large apples.

This special weekend will also have the added feature of Steam & Gasoline Engines along with many old time demonstrations. There will be a large display of antique tractors and a full schedule of events both days.

The engine event will be cosponsored by the Barry County Steam, Gas and Antique Machinery Association and is open to non club members also.

The `putt-putts' of the old engines will be heard across the grounds. Numerous other steam and gasoline engines will also be displayed. Many will be working so that all can see how things were done in the old days.

There will be a full schedule of events both days.

12:00 Gates open for touring "The Show" & Historical Park

1:00 Cider Pressing & Water Power Cornmeal Grinding Demonstrations

1:30 Tractor Parade down by the Old Mill

2:00 Tractor Pull at the pulling track near Bowens Mills Gathering Place

3:00 Cider Pressing & Water Power Cornmeal Grinding Demonstrations

3:45 Threshing Demonstration followed by Hammermill Demonstration

4:30 Cider Pressing & Water Power Cornmeal Grinding Demonstrations

Historic Bowens Mills is a family owned and operated historical park. The goal of the second generation owners of the Mill is the same as their parent's before them, to continue not only to preserve the history of the area of Yankee Springs, but to portray an image in the minds and eyes of all those who visit there; to give each one who visits a glimpse of the past, with the sights, sounds, and smells of the history that lies behind us, so that this generation can see and feel what those before us experienced, once upon a time.

Bowens Mills is a place beside the still waters of an old mill pond, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy world around us today. A place to take a step back in time, to that of the days of the 1800's and specific times there after.

All of the historical buildings in the park will be open with costumed craftsmen demonstrating and selling their wares.

The 19 acre historical park consists of:

• 1864 four story water powered working Grist Mill

• 1800's water powered working Cider Mill

• 1840's two-story Plank House, the oldest house in Bowens Mills

• 1850's one-room School House, the oldest in Barry County

• 1860's 11 room Victorian House built by the Bowens

• A Post & Beam Barn and Pioneer Farm area, home to Belgian Draft Horses, Miniature Horses, Chickens, Sheep, Goats and a Llama

• A Quaint Covered Bridge that crosses the Old Mill Stream

• 17 foot Water Wheel, completed in 1999

• "Ye Ole Craft Shoppe" an artisans woodworking & cooper shop.

• "The Fork River Trading Post" Log Cabin

• "The Bowens Mills Gathering Place" an Arts & Entertainment Center

• "The Saw Millers Cabin" down by the Old Mill Stream

• One-Room Restored "Line Camp Cabin" located near the "Trappers Trading Post"

• "The Miller's Wife Store" with many items reminiscent of bygone days including; Bowens Mills Fresh Ground Corn Meal and Amish prepared Apple Butter and Peach Butter, antiques, books, jewelry and gift items.

• "Granny's Kitchen" Restaurant prepares Hot Apple Dumplings with Ice Cream, warm Donuts, Chili, Hot Dogs, Cider by the glass and soft drinks.

Folks are encouraged bring their cameras and take a color tour through beautiful Yankee Springs Township and say "Yes to Yesterday" when you visit Historic Bowens Mills "It's Cider Time Festivals".

October 3rd & 4th Historic Bowens Mills Mountain Men Encampment & Colonial Fiber Weekend: Co-sponsored by the Fork River Free Trappers with a authentic Mountain Men & Trapper living history encampment. Colonial costumed craftsmen demonstrating and selling their works, Old fashion barnyard pull Saturday at 2:00pm, Horse drawn wagon rides, fleece spinning demonstrations both days.

October 10th & 11th Historic Bowens Mills Civil War Days: Featuring a large Living History Encampment. There will be a battle at 3:00 pm with a full schedule of special events, including artillery demonstrations both days. Special Displays will include a variety of Civil War Exhibits and Live Dulcimer Music.

ALL CIDER TIME FESTIVALS INCLUDE: Free Horse Drawn Wagon Ride with admission, Cider pressing demonstrations on the 100+ year old water-powered cider press, stone ground corn grinding demonstrations on the huge mill stones, Live Oldtime Music, Pioneer Farm with animals, along with many other history related activities. The "It's Cider Time Festivals" are Saturdays & Sundays from noon to 5pm, gate fee for adults is $5.00, Children 12 years and under $3.00.

The Old Mill is located in the heart of beautiful Yankee Springs Township, Barry County, MI just 2 miles north of Yankee Springs (Gun Lake) State Park. Watch for the Huge Millstone Marker at 55 Briggs Road, Middleville, MI 49333. Visit or call 269-795-7530 for more information.


The Past Lives Again at Historic Bowens Mills 

Sketches by Neal H. Cook

Researched & Written by Neal & Marion Cook

Re-edited in 1999 by Carleen Sabin

In 1836 Montermer B. Martin, a land speculator, came to Barry County and Purchased land from the government, President Martin Van Buren signing the contracts. This land was located in the north west part of Yankee Springs Township, parts of Sec. 8 and 17. The lake which is now known as Payne Lake was included in this tract.

Of course, one of the first things needed in those early days of Barry County was a sawmill. Soon a Mr. Payne and his son-in-law built a dam and a sawmill where two creeks joined just north of the lake. It was powered by a water wheel with a 4 foot fall and they were soon sawing 1,000 foot of lumber a day. The creeks became known as Payne and Hoag Creaks (Hoag Creek’s Name has since been changed to Cobb Creek.)

About 1838, Nathan Barlow, a lawyer, purchased some land which included the sawmill. Seeing the added potential of more water power a quarter or a mile or so up the creek, Mr. Barlow relocated the mill to its present location. History tells us he used many of the original timbers. Ox teams were used to transport them. Upon building the wooden dam across the creek, the water was backed up 14-feet, making the Mill Pond and in turn flooded the two ponds upstream, making the lake which was named Barlow Lake.

The Barlows also built the house on the east side of the old Mill Pond. It was there in that house that court was held and legal matters taken care of. The house is now owned and is being restored by the O’Dells.

Around 1854 the sawmill changed hands again, when Timothy and Franklin Miles bought it. More and more People were coming to the area and lumber was in great demand for their homes. Miles wanted to increase his production so he ordered some new equipment from New York State. His new "Muley Saw Mill" was delivered by ox team. He could now saw 7,000 feet of lumber a day. O. C. Bates owned the saw mill for about 1 1/2 years before selling to the Bowens. History dose not reveal any details of his ownership.

The Edwin H. Bowen’s moved to Yankee Springs from Ohio in 1864 and acquired the sawmill. Bowen and his son William soon added a grist mill with three levels to the operation. The mill was 24’ X 48’ and housed 2 sets of French Burr Stones. The Mill and surrounding area soon became known as "Bowens Mills". Before it was always known as Gun Lake, Michigan. E H. Bowen was made Postmaster and the mail was kept in a large basket in the family home, where the farmers from the surrounding country would call as often as twice a week for their letters. The mail was carried by stagecoach from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids, someone meeting the coach at Wayland to carry the mail to Gun Lake. Later a wooden letter holder was made and put in the Mill’s Office. It is still there.

In the early 1870’s, rumors were flying around about the railroad coming through Bowens Mills, going from grand Rapids to Battle Creek. When it did, it would mean all the more people would be settling along its path. In that case, the Mill wouldn’t be large enough to handle all the needs. Mr. Bowen wanted to be ready for it, so the roof of the mill was taken off and a fourth level was added. When the railway did come, it followed the Thornapple River and never did come to Bowens Mills.

About this same time William Bowen was courting Adeline Richards. They were married on December 31, 1874, and built the house across the road from his parents (the old Saw Millers house). This house has been owned by various people over the years, but was obtained in 1984 by Neal and Marion Cook, and then purchased and restored by their daughter and son-in-law, Owen and Carleen Sabin that now own and run the Mill and property.

In 1902 Mr. Bowen purchased a huge ‘Albright’ Cider press from Burdette Briggs. A room 18 X 24 was added on the side of the mill to house it.

Bowens Mills had become famous for it buckwheat flour and old-timers tell of how in the fall, the horses and wagons were backed all through town with their loads of apples - waiting their turn at the cider press.

About the turn of the century disaster struck the mill several times. The sawmill had previously been converted from water power to the newest source of power of the time "steam". Two of the mill workers had fired up the old stationary engine and were waiting to get full head of steam. The safety valve stuck. Soon there was a big explosion and they both were killed. Not long after that the old wood dam went out, taking with it the penstock and causing massive destruction. The sawmill was washed away along with a portion of the wall of the lower level of the grist mill. It is hard to imagine the extent of the damage, even as one views the old photos taken shortly after it happened.

The Bowens sold out to a Mr. Lanson Kieney in 1912 and Mark and Mary Richie bought the property about a year later, owning it until 1922 when Elam and Minnie (Norris) Springer purchased it.

During most of the 37 years that the Springers owned the mill it was a hub of activity. Grinding flour and grist, making cider and vinegar and also being used as a pickle weigh station. The Springers even had a little store and gas pump.

In the winter of 1943 disaster struck again. Muskrats had been digging around the dam which weakened the wall and suddenly, one cold winter night, it gave way. The penstock was destroyed and almost all of the stone wall of the lower level was washed downstream. The mill was left teetering on the two short foundation walls which were still intact. Most of the contents of the basement were never found. What a heartache this must have been for Mr. Springer, who was 71 years of age at the time. Once again, old photos reveal what an awesome job the repairs would entail. However, Mr. Springer went right to work on it, and by fall had the old mill all patched up again.

Business was slow, all the surrounding communities had built up mills and kept them updated with the latest and fastest equipment. With the modern means of transportation, many farmers preferred to go where they could to their milling and their shopping as well in one trip. In 1953 the mill ceased to operate as a business after approximately 113 years of continual service to the people of Barry County.

Around 1955 the mill was sold to Neal and Helen Engle. Their primary use of it was to use its property to raise pickles on its acreage, doing so for about four seasons. When it became harvest time, the Engles hired migrant workers to help and the old mill became home to as many as 30 Mexicans for several weeks each year. They brought their own cots, stove, tables and chairs and used the pond for bathing. They loved the old mill and were happy there. The sound of their guitars and singing could be heard far into the night.

The Engles also made cider a couple of times soon after they bought the Mill. They belted up the old press to a tractor. Over the years the power source had been converted from water, to steam, to an old ‘one -lunger’ gasoline engine.

Four families bought the mill from the Engles in 1971. They were Gorden & Willonore Fuhr, Dick & Martha Shaw, Bill & Beverly Slade and David & Carolin Dimmers. They replaced the windows and doors vandals had destroyed and did a basic clean up job.

In 1972 the state erected a marker renaming Bowens Mills a "Michigan Historical Site". It was opened for tours several times over the 7 years of their ownership.

In the fall of 1978 Neal and Marion Cook bought the mill and began the restoration project. As the saying goes, "the worse use is no use". The mill had set more or less idle for over 30 years, the water power and grindstones had not been used for nearly 40 years, some of the foundations were crumbling, various timbers were decaying and time had taken its toll. Today thanks Marion and Neal Cook with the help of family and friends and many years of work, all four levels of the mill have been restored. The old mill is now a living museum dedicated to the early pioneers of Barry County and their ingenuity. The main floor is open to the public by appointment May through August. "It’s Cider Time Festivals" begin the second weekend in September and run through the end of October. At this time the mill and its grounds come alive as the past lives again. Old time demonstrations, Civil War camps, live old time music, costumed craftsmen, and blacksmiths are just a sampling of the exciting things that are happening through the fall fund raising season.

In the lower level there is the power section along with a blacksmith shop and water powered machine shop. This area is open on festival days. The main floor is open to the public and is a museum with artifacts from the 1800’s and houses the grist and cider mills. Folks are amazed to see the water rush through the massive turbine as the grindstones slowly turn, and golden kernels of corn are transformed into fresh cornmeal, which is still for sale. Every weekend in the fall the huge old cider press is put into action and bushels and bushels of apples become gallons and gallons of cider in just moments.

The former grain storage and workshop on the third level have been transformed from a rustic sprawling area, to a cozy home by Neal and Marion Cook in 1978, where now the second generation millers Owen Sabin and Carleen Sabin live. Many of the old beams have been left exposed, which adds a handsome richness throughout the living quarters. Marion hand stenciled the walls, a wood stove and the grain elevator shafts add to the quaintness.

The Fourth level is a recreation of the old workshop along with a cobblers shop. Many of the huge gears and much of the ancient machinery still remain intact and can be seen when this floor is open for tours.

In the old days, a trip to the mill was a big event. It gave the folks a chance to meet friends they hadn’t seen for a long time and to catch up on all the latest news, as they waited for their turn to come up. People now come from miles around, to see and feel the way things were done by their ancestors in the days gone by. 

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.  Proverbs 22:28

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The 19 acre Historical Park now consists of :

 1864 Grist & Cider Mill The antiquated four-story building’s main floor houses a working Water Powered Cider Mill
1840’s two story Plank House, the oldest house in Bowens Mills
   1850’s One Room School House, moved to the mill, the oldest one room school house in Barry County
1860’s 11 room Victorian House built by the Bowens
A Post & Beam Barn, home of Belgian Draft Horses and many other farm animals.
A Quaint Covered Bridge crosses the Old Mill Stream
17 foot Water Wheel completed in 1999
“Ye Ole Craft Shoppe” an artisans woodworking and coopers shop
“The Bowens Mills Gathering Place” a huge Arts & Entertainment Center for             displays, social events, meetings, conferences, & performances plus a Gift and Antique Shop 
  “Fork River Trappers Trading Post” A Log Cabin that was completed in 2002
●  "Granny's Kitchen" Restaurant prepares Hot Apple Dumplings with Ice Cream, warm Donuts, Chili, Hot Dogs, Baked Beans, Potato Salad and drinks.  Cider by the glass or by the gallon are also obtainable.
  "The Saw Millers Cabin" down by the Old Mill Stream
●  "Line Camp Cabin" located near the "Trappers Trading Post

The Yearly Calendar Consist of:

Celebration of Spring : The third Saturday in April Live Baby Animals, Horse Drawn Rides and Spring Photos Open - noon to 5 (no admission fee to Gathering Place) Admission to the Park $5.00 adults and $3.00 children 12 and under.
Festivals & Special Events:
Saturdays & Sundays Noon to 5 pm
It's Cider Time Festivals:
3 Great Festival Weekends of Old Fashioned Family Fun that include: First Cider Pressing, Steam & Gasoline Engine Show, Mountain Men Encampment, & Civil War Days.
End of Sept. thru Mid Oct. - Gate Fee $5 adults $3 Children 12 and under
It's Christmas at the Mill: (no admission fee o the Gathering Place)
Opens after Thanksgiving Sat. & Sun. till Christmas with Fresh Cut Trees, Photos with Santa and Horse Drawn Hay Rides. (Free Family Rides with purchase of Christmas Tree) We are into making family memories here at Historic Bowens Mills and we hope that you will join us.

School and Group Tours with horse drawn rides are also available. (Group Leaders, Teachers, and Clubs may call for special tour arrangements.)  Historic Bowens Mills also offers private parties, family gatherings and small group tours, the opportunity to create your own “Choose your Adventure” package. Your package can include choices of wonderful memories like horse drawn rides or snacks by the fire, along with some of your own ideas to make your party or event "personalized" and of your own special choosing. Wedding packages, Company Picnics, Family Gatherings are also available.  Meetings and private parties are offered on the grounds or in any one of the historical buildings.
Historic Bowens Mills is an 1864 Grist Mill and Cider Mill.  It is a working museum that still grinds and sells fresh corn meal through the use of water-powered mill stones.  It is a second generation family-owned and operated state historic site with no state or county funding. The restorations and upkeep depend upon It's Cider Time Festival gate fees, special events and donations. The "It’s Cider Time Festival" gate fee for adults is $5.00, Children 12 and under $3.00. Thank you for your support in helping us preserve history for future generations.
The Old & Majestic Mill is located Midway between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. Near Yankee Springs (Gun Lake) State Park in the heart of beautiful Yankee Springs Township, Michigan where people come often. Because - from the first explosion of colorful wildflowers in the spring to the refreshing coolness of summer to the fall extravaganza in red and gold to the stark beauty of snow-covered trees in the winter - each season provides visitors with a completely different pallet of awesome natural beauty.
We hope you’ll take the time to enjoy all that there is to see and to do Bowens Mills. Some find the quiet of the historical park a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Others draw energy and inspiration from the outdoor experience. But all who come here are enriched in some way by the magnificent beauty of nature and history when they visit.