Located just a few blocks from downtown Eaton Rapids, on State Street, is the Miller Farm. It is a local landmark and an important historic feature of the town. The Miller House was built by Joel Latson in 1864 and purchased by John and Rebecca Miller in 1874.
You may have heard the story of Dennis Miller, the son of John and Rebecca, and his wife Edith “Minnie” Miller. Wanting to increase the profit on their milk, they started making ice cream at the farm in 1896. Their efforts paid off and Miller Dairy made Eaton Rapids into the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” for many years. After most of the family passed on, the business closed in the 1980s. The farm sat abandoned and deteriorating until a group of caring individuals worked to restore the house, the barn, and the property.
The barn, however, has a new, non-historic feature—a large yellow sheet spread across the peak of its roof. As you can probably guess, the roof leaks, and needs to be replaced.
“At one wedding it was like a shower inside,” said Doreen Baker, who handles the weddings in the barn. “We desperately need a new roof.”
To replace the roof, says Ken Nicholas, president of the Eaton Rapids Area Historical Society, will cost about $38,000. The ERAHS does not have the funds to cover that.
“We do a lot of fundraising and have rentals that we collect rent from; that income only covers the expenses of maintaining the property,” added Nicholas.
The large white barn is unique to the area; it is actually two barns put together. The original barn, the east end, probably dates back to the late 1800s. The newer section of the barn, the west end, was added on in the 1920s, it’s believed. It is constructed with an open-frame concept which sends the weight distribution of the roof to the outside walls rather than the usual post-and-beam construction that brings the weight straight down, allowing more unimpeded access and more efficient use of space.
The barn roof was last worked on in the 1980s when State of Michigan grants were received to restore the property. The Historical Society, owners of the property, is looking for ways to fund this endeavor. Grants, donations and sponsorships are being investigated; also under consideration is possibly re-mortgaging the property.
Over the years, much has been done to improve the barn, including restoration of the interior floors, walls, and support posts. Ramps were built inside to make it compliant with building and local fire codes for public events. “Like all the buildings on the Miller Farm, we want the barn to be used by the community — and not just be a static, ‘untouched’ museum structure,” said Mike DeGrow, who spearheaded the barn restoration efforts in the 1980’s.
“The loss of the barn would also mean the loss of the special events we do for the community, most of which are free,” said Nicholas.
If you can help, contact the Historical Society at (517) 441-1792 or stop by the farm.