Marion Roller Mills-What a Grind

December 2, 2019

Mark Sherk poses with the mill’s water powered machinery, about 1893.
Sherk and Thomson’s Marion Roller Mill and Mark Sherk’s home, about 1892

By Julie Traynor

A good many towns all across Michigan had mills. After all, we were the white pine kings of the country for quite a while. Lumber mills were behind the founding of many a Michigan village, town and city.  Mill ponds were constructed to create a source of power for mill machinery.

Marion, Michigan is one of the many places owing its start to lumber and the construction of a millpond for power for mill use. In fact, the 1878 plat map of Marion Township identifies the location of Clarkes Mill with a dot at the point where the Middle Branch River encounters the junction of four sections. Christopher Clarke’s dam and mill pond provided a great locale for his and eventually several other lumber mills. Early on, it also gave rise to another kind of mill, one essential for any so situated town. In the spring of 1888, Mark Sherk and James Thomson began construction on a grain-grinding or grist mill.

By early 1889, the Marion Roller Mills was doing a brisk business and producing the high-grade flours, the Victor and Board of Trade brands. Local bakeries and restaurants advertised the use of Marion Roller Mill flours. Sherk and Thomson also ground and sold various feed grains.

Sherk and Thomson were partners for just a few years before Sherk sold his half to Egbert ‘Bert’ Chapin, late of Winterfield. Chapin, more of a businessman than miller, hired Tom Corner in his stead. Corner and Thomson were partners in the milling business for a brief time.

After 35 years of producing a fine grade of locally ground flour, the Marion Roller Mills was sold to J.R. Harper who soon dismantled the unprofitable mill and sold the machinery. He built a home across the road from his newly constructed machine shop and garage. A new concrete flume and wheelhouse gave water driven power to the machine shop. By 1930 Harper sold, lock stock and water rights to one Fred Bullman. In 1935, Carl Thompson bought the properties and started the very successful Thompson’s Garage.

Carl soon sold to his brother Thornton, who along with wife Dora operated a Texaco gas station and convenience store, along with the machine shop/garage. They also rented small cabins, located next to their home, to travelers and hunters. Each summer much of their foot traffic was from swimmers at the nearby ‘swimming hole’ who consumed copious amounts of pop, candy and ice cream treats. Thompson’s sold the Texaco and machine shop to Ivan Snyder, who closed one and moved the other.

The power-producing portion of the mill continued to serve the machine shop businesses for a time. The flume and wheelhouse were dismantled in the early 1950’s, and some concrete left to deter erosion. If ghost hunters and local archeologists look closely, this might make sense of those large slabs of concrete lying on the north bank, below the dam.    

The old building saw use under the ownership of Delos and Margaret Day as an indoor Flea Market. It was razed by 2000. The site of one of Marion’s earliest businesses, the Marion Roller Mills is now designated as a Mill Pond Over-Look and picnic spot. Don’t blink. You could miss this friendly ghost.

Two more things: Marion’s Roller Mills installed high quality milling equipment that served that business to its end. Two of the high quality adjustable wooden belt wheels from the original mill equipment are on display at Marion Area Historical Museum, courtesy of former business owner and Village President, Earl Moss.

Second, Mark Sherk built the large, two-story home just north of the mill for his family in the spring of 1891. It has been steadily occupied since and has been known for much of its life as the Swiler home.

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