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  • Jim Townsend

Haunted Mill Returns for 2017

The Friends of the Red Mill are bringing back their popular Haunted Mill event for its third year. The Haunted Mill will be open for business at 450 Water Street on October 20th, 21st and 28th from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, and on October 29th from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM. The cost of admission is $5 per person, and the proceeds go to The Friends of the Red Mill.

Hot cider, cold cider, donuts, popcorn and hot chocolate will be available for a donation. A face painter will be on site the 20th, 21st and 29th for minimal charge.

When investigating the history of the event, Friends of The Red Mill, also known as Friends, volunteer Lisa Balderson said, “The idea for the Haunted Mill came about during our September 2015 Board Meeting. It was a multi-task meeting, as we were in a pinch to get the cement board siding stained as the contractor could hang it within the week and so held our board meet at the pavilion instead of the library to physically and mentally worked to save money by staining ourselves. Several ideas came out of the brainstorming discussion, which we’ve held since, however the haunting out the Mill was to arrive first on the calendar, we had one month. None of us had ever been involved in anything of this sort before, we didn’t know what we were getting into, but we knew we needed funds to complete our pavilion project. We rallied, like we always do, behind this wild idea sending out emails to our group of 100+ supporters, posted on our Facebook page, and asked everyone we came in contact with to give us their ideas, tell us how to make it, come join us, etc. The Portland Community responded donating props, material, time and labor. We had volunteers from neighboring Ionia and Westphalia join us. We have a lot of fun building it over the course of a month.”

Balderson added, “I won’t lie, it’s a ton of work, however it never seems like work with so many helping hands. Each work session we have a new volunteer that just shows up wanting to be involved or stop to donate supplies and we welcome them. They may only be able to help once and that is fine with us. You can say ‘Friends’ were bit by the vampire bug as we are going into our 3rd spook season with no end in sight.”

Fellow Friends board member Noreen Logel estimates that the event has drawn roughly 1,000 people each year. She also said, “The credit union is partnering with us and will be doing a truck or treat at the pavilion on Saturday the 21st. We are also hoping to have an activity table for the kids - coloring sheets, maybe a craft, etc.”

As for what to expect, Balderson says, “It’s a family friendly Halloween event, it’s not terrifying, but everyone has a different level of scare. We do not touch the guests. We change the layout, entry and exit and designs every year. Each haunt is different due to the volunteers switching characters or stations within a given night, so no two encounters are the same. This year we’ve lengthened the route.” She added, “We have had kids as young as five go through it and wanted to go again. For those who can’t handle scare but want to go through the haunted mill, we offer an escort by our ‘Nice Witch for a non-scare tour’. We’ve had a great response to this option. We have guests that come all four nights because it’s different each night.”

According to a history written about the property by Margaret Sheffer of the Portland Area Historical Society, records show the property was sold by a Mr. Newman to the railroad company in 1870, and that the, “city bought 4.6 acres back from CSX on May 5, 1997.” She also said that, “The “Red Mill”, as we know it, was a part of a complex of structures on Water Street devoted to the buying, storage and selling of farm products. The companies changed hands over a period of years and it has been difficult to determine exactly which structure was actually the mill, since many of the structures had the same purpose and similar names.”

According to literature from the Friends of The Red Mill, “The Old Red Mill started around 1900 as a farmers’ co-op for storing grain. By 1991, local agriculture had outgrown the Mill and it closed. In 1998 ownership reverted to the City of Portland for back taxes. A year later the Mill was saved from being a practice exercise for the local fire departments. Philanthropists who grew up on a farm near Portland funded a renovation and also invested a lot of hard work; and, the City agreed to maintain the Mill.

In the summer of 2000, the Mill became the site of the local Farmers’ Market. It grew year after year thanks to careful stewardship by the market managers and the repetitiveness of local customers. Eventually, the porches could not hold all the vendors; so, they set up their booths in the grass/dirt areas surrounding the porches. There, they were exposed to the direct elements unless they had individual canopies. Every year the wind and rain would visit on at least one Saturday to overwhelm a few canopies and send people scurrying for shelter. The farmers kept coming back as well as more and more folks for the locally grown produce, baked goods and good company. Years passed.

In 2012 Boy Scout Troop 58 disbanded and the leaders searched for a local non-profit which could use Troop 58’s residual assets wisely. Someone suggested the local Farmers’ Market could benefit from some protection from the weather, perhaps a pole barn? Since it was a City owned property, the then City Manager suggested contacting the philanthropists who had restored the Old Red Mill as well as the Farmers’ Market managers to get their input. Each of the three groups were interested and after several meetings joined together creating the non-profit group Friends of the Red Mill, aka Friends.”

For more information about the Haunted Mill, please visit

For information on Friends of the Red Mill, email, or on Facebook check out “Friends of the Red Mill.

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