Essay Project 2021: Transformation of the Red Mill
By Kaelyn Bayless
Imagine visiting Portland, Michigan for the first time on a sunny summer day. You turn onto water street and continue down the road until you come across a large, red building in front of an industrial facility, with a pavilion next to it. This is the Red Mill. You see all these people gathered together having a grand time. Then you decide you want to stop by to see what is taking place. A big community day is happening, where the community comes together and plays games and has all these different events, where people are spending time together and having a blast. You are immediately greeted by such delightful people which makes you feel like you belong. After talking to a bunch of people and playing games, you know this is what brings together a community. Portland does whatever they can to make everyone feel welcome, by doing this at the Red Mill, they are able to show off a historical building, all while bringing the community together.
The Red Mill is a wonderful place for people inside and outside of our community to gather. It all started as a Co-Op Elevator, where a train would run through and would let people off. It was used for transportation and farm supply of the Portland area. At the time, the city of Portland was heated with coal and later replaced with heating oil. This impacted the Mill because coal was stored in the building. This building has always brought people from within and outside the community to come together, making it significant to the town of Portland. Over the years the Red Mill has transformed into a historical building that still, to this day, brings people together.
In the 1950s there was a wheat harvest, and this is where all of the farmers came together to see who harvested the first of a new crop every year. Each farmer would get in a long line, and one by one the tractors were hooked up to the Co-Op and the grains flew into the pit.
The Red Mill later became just a building. The railroad was abandoned, farmers started storing their own crops on their farms, fewer and fewer homes were heated with coal, and semi-trucks became more popular for transporting grain. “The Red Mill closed after almost 100 years of service to the community (Leik, September 1999).”
To this day, the Red Mill is still a place for the community to gather. It’s now a historical place that you can find on the riverwalk. The location of the Red Mill is significant because it’s in a spot where there are many activities such as baseball games, soccer games, basketball games, and children playing at the park take place, so it brings everything together.
A large goal after renovating the Red Mill, was for it to be a place where people can sit down and enjoy coffee, exercise, take part in the farmer’s market or a craft show, a place to attend different fundraising events, and enjoy the flower garden.
A wonderful lady named Noreen Logel plays a big role in making Portland a better place to live and is involved within the community. She was able to sit down with me and shared a little about her thoughts and what she has helped do to transform the Mill into a place for people to come together and have a good time.
I was able to ask a few questions about how the Red Mill has become what it is today. She told me after it was no longer being used they were going to store it as a pole barn, and let farmers in Portland use it. The city manager at the time, Tom Dempsey, said that, “Portland needs better than a pole barn, let's do more,” and that was when it became a place for the community to host different events.
The most wonderful thing about the Red Mill today is that it’s all volunteers. From renovating, to building the pavilion, to having so many events in that location, everything has been volunteered. Noreen told me one of her favorite stories about how they were able to raise the money. She said, “We were able to host different fundraisers and unique events that nobody has had before. By doing this we were able to raise so much money, and it’s just an amazing thing how generous our community is.”
Being a part of a strong community helps build relationships upon one another. A poem, My Community, describes the impact that a community can have on a person. “My community is a place where people show they care. My community is a place but for you and me, my community is a place where I always want to be.” This section of the poem shows how important a community is to someone. According to a Youtube video, Lisa Balderson says, “This town is so connected, it’s fun, everybody works together, of all ages… I love our town!”
It’s amazing how transforming an old, historical building into a place where anybody can hang out, and have fun, can impact the community. Portland is a very loving community, to begin with, and then having a spot for people to come together and hang out is a wonderful thing to have. The mayor of Portland, James E Barnes says, “Something like this is really important to the community and we are now able to have these events, like the farmer’s market, where people can come down and enjoy a beautiful setting, which has added to the quality of life in our community.” Even back when the Red Mill was used as the Co-Op building, it still brought the community together, and today it stands to do the same thing.
This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.