Mills of Rose Township

Mills were an important feature to prosperity and development in a community. Having a mill in a community symbolized the potential for creating a strong local economy. A mill provided a local means for making lumber and grinding and processing grains for making food. In addition to a mill being a transformer of raw materials for personal use as well as for a growing community, they sometimes became the local gathering place similar to the role of the tavern. Often a community would grow around the mill. A mill owner had the potential for becoming wealthy and a prominent member in the community.

In the case of Rose Township a locally used mill was not built until after small settlements had already formed around the local taverns and not until after Rose Center was established when the railroad came through. However, there were a couple of failed earlier attempts at building a mill.

Requirements for a Watered-Powered Mill

  • Proximity to the “raw materials” (trees or grain crops)

  • Stream or river with dependable flow of water with sufficient fall to turn a water wheel

  • Upstream landscape to support the building of a dam to create a millpond

  • Downstream landscape to support a canal leading to the mill and to allow for water to drain away efficiently

  • Ability to easily transport materials to and from the mill and to markets

Basic Water-Powered Mill (source), accessed 2/23/21

A water-powered mill harnesses the free energy from a stream or river to do work by turning the waterwheel to provide power to the millstones for grinding grain or to a sawblade for cutting logs. Some water sources are better than others. Those with greater fall require less volume of water to operate the mill which reduces expenses. Water-powered mills are non-polluting.

A typical water-powered mills has the following elements:

  • Waterwheel beside or beneath the mill structure (stream type determines waterwheel type)

  • Dam upstream to regulate flow of water into the headrace

  • Canal ( millrace or headrace) to carry the water from the millpond to the mill ( headrace length varies greatly depending upon the distance between the dam and the mill site)

  • Tailrace is the area where the water flows after it has traveled through the waterwheel and back into the stream.


A waterwheel is a type of device that takes advantage of flowing or falling water to generate power by using a set of paddles mounted around a wheel. The falling force of the water pushes the paddles, rotating a wheel. Waterwheels come in two basic designs, a horizontal wheel with a vertical axle or a vertical wheel with a horizontal axle. Then there are variations on these.

Horizontal Waterwheel

Horizontal waterwheels

A horizontal waterwheel is the only type of waterwheel which rotates around a vertical axle on a horizontal plane. The wheel is usually mounted inside the mill building below the working floor. Water is directed on to the paddles of the water wheel, causing them to turn. This type of waterwheel was the least expensive to build, but is very inefficient at converting the energy of the water into usable energy. Very little water volume is needed to operate this waterwheel, but high head, but it requires “high head” or a large difference in elevation or water level.

Vertical Waterwheels (rotates like a Ferris wheel)

After examining the surrounding topography of the former mill site in Rose Township, Mill Historian Dave Decker believes the mill was likely using an undershot wheel to power the mill.

Undershot Waterwheel (sometimes also referred to as a “stream wheel”)

The undershot waterwheel blades or paddles dip into the stream and are rotated by the moving water passing the mill. The water needs to be moving by the mill with some considerable velocity to have enough force to turn the blades. The stream cannot be too shallow or too slow moving. The undershot waterwheel needs a good flow of water, but does not require much “head” or difference in elevation or water level. The undershot waterwheel is the simplest, easiest, and least expensive type of vertical waterwheel to construct, but is not efficient at converting the energy of the water into usable energy.

Overshot Waterwheel

The overshot wheel has a flume that delivers water to the top of the wheel. The weight of the water falling into the wheel’s buckets turns the wheel by the force of gravity. Overshot wheels have to be situated in a stream where there is sufficient fall of water equal to the diameter of the wheel, usually in a hilly area or near natural waterfalls. Most often there is a millpond associated with this type of waterwheel. Overshot waterwheels are the most common type of waterwheel designed and are the most efficient at converting energy of the water into usable energy. This type of waterwheel needs “large head” or large elevation difference.

First Plan for a Mill in Rose Township

One of the earlier land patents in Rose Township was sold to Jacob N. Voorheis and his brother-in-law David Hammond. They purchased 80 acres in section 11 where a part of the Shiawassee River runs through.

Their land was surrounded by “heavily timbered openings” and they had plans to build a sawmill. Sadly tragedy struck the Voorheis family. On July 7, 1836 Jacob N. Voorheis' wife Hannah died (though he married again quickly after her death). On October 9, 1836 his young son Andrew died. Then on December 30, 1836 Jacob N. Voorheis died leaving behind a newly married widow. A mill was never built. Had this mill been built, a settlement may have formed around the mill. The first attempt at building a mill in the township did not get much beyond the dream of building a mill.

Another Attempt at Building a Mill in Rose Township

It appears there was a second attempt to build a mill on land once owned by Jacob N. Voorheis and David Hammond. In March 1847 George Jarvis bought the former Voorheis land in section 11 from Voorhies's widow. Jarvis and his partner D. C. Foster had been running the mill in Commerce Michigan in the 1840s until their partnership dissolved in February 1847 due to having trouble with their mill business. It seems very likely Jarvis intended on building a mill in Rose Township, but he defaulted on the land in 1851 (likely due to lack of funds) and the Voorhies' widow ended up getting the land back. This attempt at building a mill in the township was only another dream that did not come true.

A Canal and Mill Building are Built

John A. Wendell was one of the early settlers in Rose Township. He came from New York to the township in 1836. He had an original land patent for 160 acres in sections 22 and 27. This land included the waterway Buckhorn Creek. Several of his sons were also early original patent land owners as well as early settlers in the township.

John A. Wendell was a vertern of the War of 1812. He was elected as the first supervisor of the township and held this position for a number of years. He also served in other positions such as clerk, justice of the peace, and postmaster. He also attempted to build a mill along Buckhorn Creek in section 22.

John A. Wendell petitioned the State of Michigan and an act was passed in 1842 authorizing him to “erect a certain mill race and dam across Buckhorn Creek, and to use the water by means of a canal, or race, for certain purposes.” This was planned for the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of section 22 in Rose Township. He was given authority to take enough water from Buckhorn Creek to propel the necessary machinery for a grist mill or saw mill.

Sometime between 1842 and 1845, John A. Wendell dug a canal and an extensive ditch for the purpose of erecting a grist mill. The building was built, but Wendell’s funds ran low. He turned the “mill” building into a small tannery which in a short time he abandoned. An article in the Pontiac Weekly Gazette from 1875 looked back on the event and quoted an article written on August 20, 1845 which succinctly explained and confirmed the details of this story.

In 1847 John A Wendell sold the mill building/tannery to his nephew Ahasuerus W. Buell who was running the newly built Buckhorn Hotel next door to the mill building at the time (Buell had built the Buckhorn Hotel in 1846).

Acreage report showing sale of SE ¼ of Section 22 by J. Wendell land to his nephew A. Buell.

Buell made repairs to the old mill building and turned it into a dry goods and general merchandise store which he ran for a few years. He also ran a small tannery where buckskins were tanned and mittens made.

Less than two years after building the Buckhorn Hotel (tavern), Buell sold it to his cousin Everett Wendell, son of John A. Wendell. After selling the tavern Buell built a store on the opposite side of what is now Milford near Demode Road. He built the building to be a tannery but ended up using it as a small shoe shop. In 1854 Ahasuerus W. Buell moved to Holly and opened a store.

1857 Map Showing Section 22 in Rose Township

The blue dot Blue dot represents where the mill building and later tannery and store were located at the intersection of Milford Road and Demode Road.

John A. Wendell died in 1858 after a serious fall described in the article below. John A. Wendell had petitioned the state government and was given permission to alter a water course in preparation for building a mill. He dug a canal and built a building, but his goal of creating a functioning mill was never realized.

Pontiac Gazette, 27 February 1858

The canal Wendell dug for the mill and the written word are the only remaining evidence of Wendell’s “mill”. In the aerial image below the canal dug by Wendell is outlined by the blue box. The canal depression remains today. It is the dark area running along the south side of Demode Road ending at Milford Road on the east side. Buckhorn Lake is the large body of water on the left side of this image.

1963 Aerial Image Showing Canal Built by Wendell (source)

Building an Operational Mill in Rose Township - The McWithy Mill

Ephraim McWithy (McWithy, McWithey, McWethy, McWithie, Mequethy, McQuithe) (1785-1864) was the original land patent owner of 80 acres of land in White Lake Township. He came to Michigan from Wayne County New York with his wife Sarah Scovel (1780-unknown) and children. One of these children was Ephraim McWithy (1818-1897). In 1843, Ephriam McWithy purchased land in Rose Township (section 23) which had the Buckhorn Creek running through it. This is the land where a mill would be built.

Reuben McWithy is likely related to Ephraim McWithy (1785-1864) as they came from the same area in New York and lived near each other in White Lake Township. The exact relationship is not known.

The land patent lists Ephraim WcWithy “junior” as the owner. There were many generations of Ephraim McWithys. In this case, “junior” appears to be the “senior” of the two McWithys in this story. Because there are multiple generations of Ephraim McWithys, the dates of birth and the word “senior” will be used to indicate the older generation Ephraim McWithy.

It is not known for sure whether it was the “father” Ephraim McWithy or the “son” Ephraim McWithy (age 25 at this time) who purchased the land in Rose Township. Either way, it would be “son” Ephraim McWithy (1818-1897) and then his son and grandson who would eventually own and run the mill. In the 1840 census Ephraim McWithy “senior” (1785-1864), his wife Sarah Scovel (1780-unknown), and two children including “son” Ephraim McWithy were living at home in White Lake Township. In the 1850 census, the “senior” Ephraim McWithy cannot be found in records, but Ephraim McWithy (1818-1897) is married to Margaret Linderman (1825-1909) and living in White Lake Township. They have three young children.

The future “mill land” in Rose Township had first been purchased by Ephraim McWithy from William Gage in 1843. Two years later, it was sold to Isaac Osmun. This “sale” appears to possibly have been a mortgage situation because in 1846 the land was once again owned by Ephraim McWithy. Evidence to support this possibility includes the fact that Osmun was related to the Linderman family. Ephraim McWithy (1818-1897) had married into that family when he married Margaret Linderman. This may also have been the timeframe when the “mill land” changed hands from Ephraim McWithy “senior” to his son Ephraim McWithy had it been purchased by the “senior” McWithy.

Likely following the death of Ephraim McWithy (1818-1897), the land was transferred for a short time to his oldest son Henry McWithy (1845-1912) and then from Henry McWithy to his brother Joel McWithy (1851-1926). In 1913, Ephriam’s daughter Emma McWithy (1860-1931) appears to have had interest in the land which was transferred to her brother Joel McWithy which occurred not long after the death of their brother Henry. Records indicate some type of lease arrangement in 1882-1883 between McWithy and the neighboring landowner (Fillingham). It is not known if this lease had anything to do with needing more length of the Buckhorn Creek for the mill.

There was a considerable length of time between when Ephraim McWithy owned the “future mill land” in 1843 in Rose Township and when a mill was actually built in the late 1880s. It is not known if Ephraim McWithy purchased this land with the idea of building a mill or if he did not have the funds to build the mill earlier, but records indicate an interest in mills and experience with mill work in the extended family. Ephraim McWithy’s (1818-1897) father-in-law John Linderman and his partner Marcus Riker ran the gristmill and sawmill in Clintonville in Waterford Township, Michigan. Linderman and Riker did not build the mills, but ran them for several years.

Land Transfer for Section 23 – NW ¼

Listing from the 1872 Business Directory from Waterford Township Businesses

Map of Clintonville Showing the Mills

The following newspaper article indicates one of the McWithys (possibly Henry) had water rights on the Huron River in White Lake Township and had dammed it. Perhaps they had considered building a mill in this area.

Oxford Leader, November 3, 1899

This article is written after the mill in Rose Township was built, but implies McWithey had interest in mills in White Lake, Michigan. It seems to say McWithy had a dam on the Huron river near Oxbow Lake and owned water rights, but were not using the mill.

Historic Maps Showing “Mill Land” owned by Ephraim McWithy

1857 Map

1872 Map

1896 Map

The mill did not show up on the Ephraim McWithy land until the 1896 map. Note the small 3 acre piece of land shown on the 1896 map owned by McWithy. This may have been related to a tax sale. The square box indicating a structure is reported by grandson Arthur McWithy as being a log cabin.

The 1872 historic map shows a dwelling on the McWithy land which was likely the family log cabin as described in a newspaper article from 1938. The article mentions Arthur McWithy, grandson of Ephraim McWithy, living in the family’s log cabin in 1938. It is not known if another home had been built on this site.

The Mill Becomes Operational

Joel McWithy did not own the land on which the mill was built until after it was built but likely operated the mill from the beginning - soon after the time he married “the girl next door”, Isadora “Lizzie” Pittenger (1862-1911) in 1886. On the 1896 map, the mill is listed as a sawmill. Joel, his wife Lizzie, son Arthur, and other children are listed in the 1900 and 1910 census living in Rose Township. Joel McWithy is running the mill as listed in the Michigan Gazetteer Business Directory as a feed and saw mill. Prior to the McWithy Mill being built, the closest mills to Rose Township were located in Davisburg, Milford, and then in Holly Michigan.

Based on the later account of Joel McWithy’s son Arthur McWithy (1886-1911) in a 1938 newspaper article, the mill served as a sawmill as well as a gristmill.

Select Dates From Michigan Gazetteer and Business Directory

From 1887

From 1893

From 1907

Sometime between 1913 and 1929 there appears to be a mortgage issue between the McWithys and V. Hooker and E. Trimmer, but by December 1929 (about 3 years after Joel McWithy’s death in 1926), son Arthur McWithy (1866-1957) owned the mill and land once owned by his grandfather and father. The issue falls within the timeframe between the death of Joel McWithy in 1926 and the “mill land” changing hands from Joel McWithy to his son Arthur McWithy.The historic maps of 1930 and 1947 show the land owned by Arthur McWithy.

Historic Maps Showing “Mill Land” owned by Joel McWithy and Arthur McWithy

1908 Map

1930 Map

1947 Map

The mill is not labeled by words on the 1908 map, but is shown as a structure (small square box) directly over Buckhorn Creek.

Arthur McWithy is shown living in Rose Township with his parents in both the 1900 and 1910 census (listed as a laborer). In the 1920 census, Arthur is listed as living with his father and sister in Pontiac (his mother had died in 1911) on a home farm and is listed as a farmer. Perhaps this move to Pontiac was related to a mortgage issue or due to other reasons. On the 1930 and 1940 census, Arthur is living alone on the mill land on what is now called Joel Road. He is listed as a farmer.

Arthur McWithy implied in a newspaper article the mill was run by two generations - his generation and his father’s generation. By the time this mill was operating, the railroad had already come through and the Rose Center community was established. Subsequently, a community never developed around this mill as was so often the case in Oakland County. Other contributing factors may have been the late date at which the mill was built, the fact that the mill was a small, more locally used mill, or inadequate water flow.

After the heyday of the mill being used for cutting logs and grinding grain, Arthur McWithy is said to have made whippletrees, neck yokes, and baseball bats.

South Lyon Herald, 15 September 1938

It is not known if the Joel McWithy family had lived in this family log cabin. This article lists the mill being on Parker Road. This may be in error or written before the road was named Joel Road.

An End of an Era

A number of the Ephraim and Margaret McWithy children died in early childhood. Many of them never married. By the time the estate of Ephraim McWithy was probated, only Joel and Emma McWithy were surviving. After a probate agreement, Emma McWithy ended up with the farm in White Lake and Joel McWithy ended up with the mill and land in Rose Township and then Joel’s son Arthur McWithy.

Milford Times, 29 March 1913

1930 Map White Lake Township

After the death of Ephraim McWithy, the family farm in White Lake, Michigan was divided between the two surviving children Joel and Emma McWithy. Joel McWithy appears to have retained interest in his family land in White Lake, Michigan until his death in 1926.

Ephraim McWithy and his wife Margaret are buried in White Lake Cemetery in White Lake Township. Henry and Emma McWithy are buried in Oxbow Lakeside Cemetery in White Lake Township. Joel McWithy, his wife Lizzie Pittenger McWithy, and their son Arthur McWithy are buried in the Rose Center Cemetery in Rose Township Michigan.

There had been a number of attempts to build a mill in Rose Township since the formation of the township. Personal tragedy and financial troubles interfered with these attempts. When an operational mill was finally realized it came “late” in terms of the timing for a community to develop around it. Small settlements had already formed around the local taverns.

Miller / Millwright

The millwright found the appropriate location and placement for a mill preferably in an area where there was a good source of water and the right natural land topography in order to have the mill operate efficiently. The millwright laid out the mill races or canals following the natural contours of the surrounding land. The millwright calculated the “fall” and designed the mill so that the water flowed efficiently to the mill to operate the waterwheel. It is unknown who functioned as the millwright on either the Wendell or McWithey mills.

A miller was the expert operator of the mill, often the mill’s owner. The miller had knowledge about all the parts of the mill (wheels, gears, shafts) and knew how to adjust and balance the millstones for grinding different grains. Both Joel and Arthur McWithy appeared to have served as ‘miller’ of the McWithey Mill.

Other Mills in Rose Township - Cider Mills

Cider mills were also once powered by water in the same manner as with sawmills and gristmills. The flow of a nearby stream or river was used to turn a waterwheel to power the press. There were also steam-powered cider mills which also needed a water source nearby and fuel to burn to be able to make steam. Water- and steam-power went out of style when electricity became readily available.

In early America, most homesteads had an apple orchard and this practice likely traveled with the early settlers to Rose Township. Fermented apple cider (hard cider) was a common product made from apples and preferred over drinking water especially in areas where the water was not safe to drink. Cider was also made into vinegar used for preserving fresh food (canning and pickling). According to a National Park Service history of Orchards in the United States, a 5-acre apple orchard could produce more than a 1,000 gallons of cider per year.

Farrukh/Creative Commons

Before prohibition (1920-1933) cider mills made “hard cider” (alcoholic) as their main product. Making cider involved crushing apples into pulp and then pressing the pulp to extract the juice. The juice was then fermented into hard cider. The solid matter remaining after pressing (pomage) would be steeped in water and fermented into a weaker alcoholic drink called “ciderkin” for consumption by children. The pomage would be either thrown away or mixed into animal feed. If cider is fermented longer, it turns into vinegar. Switchel or haymaker’s punch was a non-alcoholic drink made by adding water to apple cider vinegar and sweetening it with molasses, sugar, brown sugar, or honey and sometimes seasoning it with ginger. It became a traditional non-alcoholic drink to have during harvest time. The non-alcoholic cider of today used to be called “apple cider”, and hard cider was called “cider”.

By the late 1800s, the popularity of hard cider declined due to a combination of factors including the industrial revolution bringing people from the farm to the city, the increase of immigrants from countries who preferred drinking beer and the readily availability of grain in the Midwest for making it; the temperance movement and prohibition; and unpasteurized/unfermented cider not traveling well from farms to population centers. Subsequently many orchards were abandoned and by the end of the 1800s the production of hard cider was greatly reduced. In more recent times there has been a resurgent interest in hard cider.

Keeping to tradition, many cider mills still press cider as it was originally done. Today visiting a cider mill for picking apples, watching apples being pressed into cider, and eating homemade donuts with freshly pressed cider is a popular fall tradition.

There is one cider mill currently operating in Rose Township. Few records exist documenting other cider mills once having been in the township. There is one former cider mill labeled on the 1872 historic map, but little is known about this mill.

The 1872 historic map labels a cider mill in section 3 at the northern end of Rose Township located off of Milford Road east of the railroad tracks. The Shiawassee River and a tributary of the Shiawassee are nearby which hint at the possibility of it having been a water- or steam-powered mill. This area would have provided good access to Holly to the north and to the railroad.

1872 Historic Map Showing Cider Mill

The property on which the cider mill is located on the map is owned by William Heward (1806-1884) and James Slocum. Heward (sometimes listed as Howard in records) was born in England and lived in New York for 11 years before coming to Rose Township around 1842. He and his family lived on their farm for 42 years.

In the census records for the years 1860, 1870, and 1880, William Heward (1806-1884) is found as head of house living with his wife Elizabeth Whittaker Heward (1809-1897) and various children and a grandchild throughout these years. In the 1860 census, daughter Jane Heward is listed as being a school teacher and son Ambrose Heward is listed as a farm laborer. In the 1870 census, son William Heward (1849-1908) is listed as being a farm laborer. In 1880 son William may be working in a flour mill in Kent County and in 1900 he is living in Holly and working as a Grist Mill Laborer (though on his death certificate he is listed as having been a shipping clerk and having died from Bright’s Disease - a disease of the kidneys). In the 1880 census grandson William J. Wolfe (Wolf) was living with the Hewards. It is not known why he is living with his grandparents and aunts as his parents were living out west. Ann and Mary Heward do not appear to have ever married and lived in the Rose Township family home for the remainder of their lives. By the 1920 census William J. Wolfe is listed as head of house and is still living on the family farm.

Pontiac Gazette, 6 June 1884 (source)

James Slocum was born in New York and is listed in the 1870 census as living in Rose Township with his wife and children. Slocum’s occupation is listed as cooper which hints to a business relationship in regards to the cider mill. A cooper traditionally made all types of wooden implements such as rakes and wooden-bladed shovels, but also wooden casks and barrels which would be used in the cider business. Historically barrel-making by coopers was considered a companion industry to commercial fruit growing. It was also common for coopers to work for breweries.

The non-population agriculture schedule in 1870, shows William Heward growing wheat, corn, Indian corn and having 60 sheep. A schedule for apples was not found, but the mill may have taken in apples from other farmers. Information about this cider mill is sparse and limited.

It is not known what happened to this business though it appears to not have lasted long. The timing for this cider business may have been caught in the beginning of the decline in popularity of cider. This cider mill does not show up on the 1896 historic map, but Mrs. Heward (Howard) is shown owning the farm. Her husband William Heward had died in 1884. The 1908 historic map shows two of the Heward daughters Annie and Mary owning the family farm as Elizabeth Heward died in 1897. In 1930, the family farm was owned by Mary Heward and William J. Wolfe, grandson of William Heward.

1896 Map show Heward Property

1908 Map show Heward Property

1930 Map show Heward Property

Diehls Orchard and Cider Mill

Diehl's Orchard & Cider Mill was opened in 1954 by Paul and Isabelle Diehl. They originally came from New Jersey to help Paul Diehls’ brother run an orchard in downtown Holly (the orchard was located in the northwest corner of the intersection of North Holly Road and Grange Hall Road). Eventually they purchased 100 acres in Rose Township and planted more apple trees. Diehls is currently a fourth generation family owned and operated business. It is the only remaining cider mill in the township.

Records confirming the existence of additional cider mills having once been in the township were not found. However, farms having apples trees for personal use or orchards for agricultural production were common. Apples were a versatile food and stored well. Apples were eaten in hand, fried, stewed, baked, dried, made into cider and vinegar, made into preserves and apple butter, and could even be used as livestock feed.

1940 Aerial Photograph Showing Remnant Apple Orchards at the Intersection of Davisburg and Milford Roads in Rose Township (section 10)

In the late 1800s, it is likely some farmers in the township sold apples to the H. J. Heinz Company located in Holly Michigan. The H.J. Heinz Company out of Pittsburg expanded dramatically in 1890's with the Holly, Michigan plant being built in 1896 to support pickling stations. Heinz bought thousands of bushels of apples from local farmers to make cider vinegar for making pickles. It is not known how this plant influenced apple growing in Rose Township though there are old remnant apple orchards scattered around the township. In 1909 Heinz moved to Iowa, but returned in 1910 and operated until 1931. The Holly Heinz plant closed in 1931.

Heinz Factory in Holly Michigan (source)

The popularity of home orcharding declined as people moved away from farming and began living in the suburbs and after inexpensive railway shipping and mechanical refrigeration made year-round apple shipping possible. Michigan continues to be one of the top apple growing states.








  • (accessed july 6, 2019)



  • Rose Township History 1837-1987. Rose Township Historical Society, 1987.

  • Dave Decker, Mill Historian. Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society

  • Images of America Holly. Suanne J. Les and Greta Mackler. Arcadia Publishing. 2004. Pgs. 44-46.


Copyright © Maura Jung and Carol Bacak-Egbo. The content on this page is released with the Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 License