Bill and Carole Jean Stockhausen were ahead of their time back in 1977 when they were scouring the state to find an old mill to buy. They were young and had three young children. They wanted to find a mill to live in that had the potential to create electric power so their home could be energy self-sufficient. This would be a second home for the family, with their main home being in Northville. They found the perfect mill in Bellevue, which at the time was known as the Bellevue Gothic Mill. It is located on Mill Street.
Bill, an engineer for Ford Motor Company, was inspired by Henry Ford’s plans to create small factories in southeast Michigan that were powered by old mills, rivers, and dams. He saw the potential in this source of renewable, sustainable, nonpolluting, and non-toxic energy.
Carole Jean had a few stipulations to the plan. They needed a mill that was worth restoring, she said. It needed to be “plumb”-many mills they visited leaned. It needed to be sound, as they didn’t want to have to completely rebuild. Enough water to run the mill was needed, along with a low price, as they weren’t wealthy.
Built in 1854 by Horatio Hall for Manlius Mann, the Bellevue Gothic Mill is a five-story building, towering 80 feet, and is situated next to the Battle Creek River just a few blocks from downtown Bellevue. Gothic refers to the style of architecture of the mill, which was sometimes known as “carpenter gothic,” and was typified by pointed arches, steep gables, towers, and was relatively unadorned. Another prime example of this style of architecture is the house behind the couple in Grant Woods’ famous painting, “American Gothic”.
“One of the most substantial frame structures to be found in the state,” was how it was described in an early Eaton County history book.
The mill was a symbol of the industry that helped Bellevue grow. It provided a much-needed service to the village and to the farmers in the area. In 1888 the millstones were replaced with a “Smith Roller Process,” a steel roller mill, and the waterwheel replaced with two 43-horsepower turbines.
The three-ton waterwheel in the basement turned three sets of millstones originally. Flour was produced from 1854 until 1958. By 1949 it was the only mill left in a 50-mile radius. “Bellevue Bluebird Flour” was produced there in the late 1920s.
In 1958 all mill operations ceased. The mill sat, abandoned, and fell into disrepair. It was targeted by vandals. Valuable cherry and oak wood was taken from the structure, leaving gaping holes in the floors and much destruction.
In 1975, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the Village of Bellevue, who owned it until the Stockhausens made an offer of $3000 for it. The Village agreed to the sale but gave them a five-year deadline to enclose the building and make it safe for the public.
The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) gave the Stockhausens an idea. This law required that utilities had to buy electricity from small producers. They decided it was time to produce some power that could help pay for the restoration of their house and for their children’s educations. Bill and Carole Jean installed two hydroelectric generators themselves, as they couldn’t afford to hire anyone else.
The mill now powers itself plus provides electricity to numerous homes in the community and provides the Stockhausens a nice check each month from Consumers Energy.
Despite buying the mill for only $3000, Stockhausen estimates they have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the mill to restore it. They saved considerably, though, by doing about 90% of the work themselves with the help of their five children, and after all, it was actually a “labor of love.”
Did they expect it to take this long? “No!” Stockhausen said. They thought it would probably take about five years, as the village of Bellevue had ordered. They are still working on the mill, forty-five years later.
There was a hiatus from mill restoration in the late 1990s, however, when they decided to focus on their children and let the mill wait.
“It was a lot of fun, but to do something like this you need a wife like St. Carole Jean,” as his wife is affectionately known. “I tell her that all the time.”
“The Mill is like a sanctuary to us, a place to get away,” Stockhausen said. They plan on having an open house for the public in October. To contact Stockhausen, visit their Facebook page @BellevueMill.