The Isaac Ludwig Mill has a rich, and colorful heritage. In 1822, Peter Manor, a French Canadian trader, built a sawmill at this site and subsequently had a small gristmill. In 1842, Peter Manor sold some land to the State of Ohio for the construction of the Miami and Erie Canal. As part of his compensation for the land he was granted perpetual water rights to power eight sets of 48" buhrstones and machinery. Today Providence Metropark District, current owner of the mill, has the water rights that obligate the State of Ohio to supply water to the mill's turbines. Manor started building a mill building but died before its completion. In 1849, Isaac Ludwig, a boat builder from Pennsylvania, bought and completed the construction of the mill. Isaac Ludwig used a breast-shot waterwheel to power the buhrstones. The mill prospered under Isaac Ludwig's management until his retirement.
In 1886 Augustine Pilliod bought the mill and hired an apprentice Frank Heising, a German youth who could speak English. Many of the local farmers were German and Pilliod needed someone to interpret and talk to the farmers. While Pilliod owned the mill, he made many changes. He decided to modernize the mill and added 25 feet to the existing building. The only remnants of the original Peter Manor building are the foundation and some framing. He removed the waterwheel, installed a turbine and put in roller mills. In 1908, Pilliod introduced an electric generator powered by a 140-horsepower Trump turbine. This enabled the mill to supply electricity for the mill and the surrounding area. Toledo Edison Company bought out Pilliod in 1918. When the railroads were built through Grand Rapids, Augustine Pilliod was contracted to pump water to the steam engines at their station in Grand Rapids. Pilliod installed a water pump in the basement of the mill, blasted through solid rock in the riverbed, laid an iron pipe and pumped water with the turbine one-half mile across the river. The line is still there and comes up in the basement. The pump is also still in place, but not in use. Augustine Pilliod retired in 1918 a wealthy man. Frank Heising, the apprentice, bought the mill and operated it until his death in 1931. His son, Cleo, along with the entire family, assumed the operation of the mill. In March of 1940, fire destroyed the upper part of the second level and the roof. The building was rebuilt as it exists now. The head houses were added at this time. In 1949, a new 36" Leffel turbine was installed, upgrading the mill. At this time much of the old machinery was replaced and the business was modified into a feed mill. The flouring operation ceased with the advent of the 1940 fire.
In 1972, the mill was providing livestock feed for a near non-existent demand and closed. The mill's machinery was auctioned and just the shell of the building, the turbines, and the water pump remained. Between 1972 and 1974, Cleo R. Ludwig, Isaac Ludwig's great grandson, purchased the mill from the Heising Family and donated it to the Providence Metropark District.
In 1974, the Providence Metropark District started to restore the building to an authentic 1900 mill.
Currently, the primary power source for the mill is the two turbines. They are located in a penstock in the basement of the mill building. Water from the canal flows into the pen stock, and drops down through the turbines which turn the shaft and transfers the energy via gears and belts to drive the sawmill and the stones. The spent water exits into the river.
The steam engine is used as an alternative power source. There is a dam about one-half mile up stream of the mill site that creates deep water for 20 miles up river. It is at the dam's location that the canal is fed its water supply. The mill never runs out of water. However, because the river floods, the water at the mill site rises and equalizes with the level of the water in the canal. As the head equalizes, or is lost, the mill loses its power. Pilliod had the same problem in 1900 so he put in a steam engine and boiler. When the river would rise, he would fire up the steam engine and run with steam power. When the water went back down, he would shut down the steam engine and would mill with waterpower. Today, the Providence MetroPark institutes the same procedure.
Presently, the Isaac Ludwig Mill is an authentic, functioning, turn-of-the-century grist and flourmill. It also has a turbine-powered, functioning sawmill. Visitors can witness the mechanics involved with the process of milling used in the 1800's and purchase the products produced at the mill.
The first floor of the mill is occupied by the sawmill, the steam engine, boiler, and equipment (belts, pulleys, and gears) to transfer the power from the turbines and the steam engine to the various equipment. There is also an office. The second floor houses three sets of buhrstones. One grinds corn, the second grinds rye, and the third grinds buckwheat flour. A sifter for the flour, using silk screens, functions and presents a unique experience for the visitor to witness. This is a rare treat because the process of screening flour is an involved procedure and is seldom found elsewhere. Antique milling machinery is displayed on the second and third floor. This equipment is some of the most exquisitely preserved milling machinery on display in the country.
Various members of the Providence Metropark staff have been busy restoring, repairing, and placing into operation many antique pieces of equipment to perform as part of the functioning museum.
The steam engine was built by the Erie City Iron Works in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1890. The Metroparks acquired the steam engine and placed it in the mill in the mid 1970's.
The miller can change from waterpower to steam power. "What we do to operate is just take the belt off the turbine in the basement (he is pulling and releasing large belts and clutches) and put this belt on the engine up to the line shaft and we are running on steam." After the belt is switched over to the line shaft so that the mill will be powered by the steam engine, a whistle sounds. I suspect that it is to make sure that all hands are not in a potentially dangerous place. When the steam engine starts it is very quiet, and runs smoothly.
There is one light bulb on the first floor, visible behind the sawmill. It is powered by the mill's generator. The miller tells a story about Augustine Pilliod when he used to supply electricity to the local community from 1908 to 1918. At 8:55 every evening Pilliod would slow down the turbines, which resulted in everyone's lights dimming. This was the signal from Pilliod that he was going home in 5 minutes and the electricity would be gone at 9:00.
The Metropark added a functioning sawmill on the first floor. The sawmill is the only thing in the mill that does not duplicate the original equipment. The Metroparks have multiple reforestation projects that were started in the 1950's and are now mature. The sawmill is kept busy by Metropark sawing wood for various construction projects and dead trees resulting from disease and lightning strikes. It is powered by the 48" Trump turbine that develops 140 brake horsepower with a 10-foot head of water. When the turbine is engaged, belts start whirling and the mill starts vibrating. Running a log through the blade doesn't even make it hesitate.
Isaac Ludwig Mill is open from the first of May through the end of October on Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 until 5:00. On Saturday, special events are scheduled at 2:00. Sunday afternoon from 1:00 until 4:00 there is a complete demonstration of the mill's capabilities. Visitors will be able to see corn, wheat, buckwheat, or rye ground with stones, and the sawmill operate. Various types of crafts are also demonstrated on Sunday afternoon. Visitors can purchase stone ground whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, yellow cornmeal, rye flour, rye bran and buckwheat flour.
Located on the Maumee River across from historic old Grand Rapids, Isaac Ludwig Mill is a fascinating experience for the entire family. ("Guide to Isaac Ludwig Mill."; Klimoski; Neagley)