Though I gave up counting weeks ago, I believe I have eaten my weight in spice donuts from – and we’re only halfway through the season.
I measure the autumn by the opening and closing of our iconic cider mill. I know that from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, my favorite season is in full swing. The crunch of leaves under my feet, turtlenecks and warm sweaters pulled out of hibernation (although this spell of warm weather has me digging out the summer clothes), pumpkins and squash at the farmer’s market. And spiced donuts washed down with cool apple cider.
While the cider, donuts, caramel apples, honey, apple butter, and a host of other goodies lure throngs to the mill, there is no question that its 138-year history adds to the appeal.
Founded in 1873 by Benijah A. Parmenter, a Novi native and Civil War naval veteran, Parmenter’s is the second oldest continuously operating business in Northville. Only The Northville Record (established in 1869) has been in business longer.
In this month’s issue of the Northville Historical Society’s newsletter, the Mill Race Quarterly, there is a profile of Benijah Parmenter written by NHS Archivist Heidi Nielsen that coincides with several photos recently added to the Archives’ collection.
Heidi graciously agreed to share that history, gleaned from articles in The Northville Record as well as Jack Hoffman’s book, Northville...The First Hundred Years:
Benijah Aldrich Parmenter (nicknamed “Madge”) was born in Novi, Michigan on May 7, 1842. Originally from New York State, his parents were early settlers to the area. Benijah received his early education in a log schoolhouse and helped on his family’s farm. He enlisted in the US Navy in March of 1862 and served on board the USS Elfin until it was destroyed in battle on the Tennessee River. He then served on board the USS Cincinnati until the close of the Civil War.
After the war, he returned to farming in the Northville/Novi area and married Anna F. Guthrie in December 1867. Using his mustering out pay, he established Parmenter’s Mill on Baseline Road in 1873.
Originally, the mill was powered by a team of horses and produced vinegar. In 1880, the mill was powered by a threshing machine engine and ground up to 10,000 bushels of apples annually. Two years later, the mill began using a steam engine, which remained in use until 1910, when power was switched over to an electric motor.
The Parmenter’s marketed their products throughout this area. Parmenter’s produced mainly apple cider vinegar until 1953, but they also produced apple butter and apple cider. The Mill was run by five generations of Parmenter’s until it was sold in 1968.
Many years after the Civil War, Benijah received a medal from Congress. Being a very modest man, he never discussed the act that merited the award. Benijah passed away in 1921, Anna followed in 1927. They are buried next to each other in Knapp Cemetery on Nine Mile Road.
In 1968, Robert Parmenter, the last descendant of Benijah to own the mill, turned the business over to Vern and Ruth Bodker. The Bodkers, who previously owned the Bodker Dairy Company, made significant changes in the cider-making operation, most notably the addition of a stainless steel drum for keeping pressed apples refrigerated. The Bodkers also owned the mill when fire destroyed the original structure in 1977. Undaunted, they rebuilt the main building and were open for business the next season.
In 1991, sisters Cheryl Nelson and Diane Jones, along with their husbands Bob Nelson and Mel Jones, purchased the cider mill from the Bodkers, who were longtime former Redford-area neighbors. The Bodkers helped the new owners transition into the cider business during the first year. The Nelson and Jones families have left much of the mill structurally intact, but have added some new-featured items. Since 1993, the cider mill has sold a unique variety of Michigan wines.
For decades I have stood in line at Parmenter’s staring at the images of the mill’s founder as well as other historic documents. It was not until last spring when I needed to find early images of Parmenter that I remembered the incredible display on the walls. The owners could not have been more willing to share the mill’s history.
While the prospect of having someone take down your historic documents, dismantle shadow boxes and frames, scan your images, reassemble and return everything intact would seem a bit daunting to most, it didn’t faze Cheryl and Bob Nelson. In fact, Bob brought his power drill to help pull out screws long embedded in the woodwork.
The images scanned included photographs, Northville High School commencement invitations, the marriage certificate of Benijah and Anna (Guthrie) Parmenter and Benijah’s photograph wearing his G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) ribbon. All of the documents are now digitized and housed in the Archives at the Northville Historical Society. A few are featured here.
The next time you are at Parmenter’s, take a look around. There are 138 years of history on Baseline Road just over the railroad tracks...and the best spiced donuts anywhere.