July 23, 2014 - L. Brooks Patterson visited the Village of Leonard Saturday to pay tribute to one of the few things that's been in Oakland County longer than him.
Public officials, residents and visitors to the 62nd Annual Strawberry Festival held in Leonard Saturday posed for a group photo in front of the town's old mill/grain elevator built in the late 19th century. The photo will be sent to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to be used on its website as part of a national campaign to advocate for historic treasures. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
The county executive was the keynote speaker at a ceremony honoring all the organizations and individuals who contributed funds, services, expertise and resources to help Leonard acquire the old mill/grain elevator and the 0.28-acre parcel on which it sits, located on E. Elmwood, adjacent to the Polly Ann Trail.
"History is what we're all about," Patterson said. "That tells everybody who we were and what we did and how well we did it. And Leonard's got a great opportunity here to save a very important part of history."
Using a mix of grant money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund ($18,384) and village funds ($6,099), Leonard was able to purchase the structure built in the late 19th century. Leonard took ownership in May.
For many years, the old mill/grain elevator played an important role in aiding area farmers and contributing to the local economy.
It was the last operational grain elevator in the entire county when it shut down in 2005. Local efforts to "save the mill" began in 2010.
"I'm sort of a history buff myself," Patterson said. "I enjoy history and I used to teach it, so if there's an opportunity to preserve part of our heritage, I'm all for it."
Now that it's village property, Leonard officials and residents are continuing to work hard to preserve and restore the historic structure in the hopes of giving it a whole new purpose as a park.
"The village plans to eventually create a public recreational area to complement the Polly Ann Trail and generate interest in our area as a recreational destination," said Leonard Village President Mike McDonald.
Ultimately, the proposed park would include such amenities as a trail visitor center and community room, permanent restrooms, drinking fountains, picnic area, benches, bike racks and fix-it stations, a horse picket line, trail manager's office, storage of trail-related equipment and a small seasonal retail outlet to sell trail merchandise, water, snacks and small bicycle repair items.
It will take an investment of approximately $1 million to do all of the above in three phases. The village is currently pursuing $406,000 worth of grants to accomplish the first phase. The other two phases are estimated to cost $330,000 and $337,000.
"I saw the rendering of what it would look like when it's done. It's going to be a great addition to Leonard to see that (building) back up and functioning," Patterson said.
Because the Polly Ann Trail is part of a 924-mile showcase trail connecting Detroit's Belle Isle to Wisconsin, Patterson believes Leonard will become an "attraction" along that route, a place where trail users can eat, rest and look around. "You're going to have a lot of visitors once you get this old mill rehabbed and open," he said.
Patterson said historic preservation and economic development often go hand-in-hand in older communities like Rochester and Holly.
"It gives them a sense of place. People come to visit," he said. "Holly, for example, has 100 percent occupancy in their downtown stores. People want to go back in history and see what it was like. That's why Mackinac is so popular. It's a spot in time."
In order to make the Leonard Mill Park, as it will be called, a reality, Leonard is pursuing grants, donations and other alternative funding sources.
"I'd like to ask you to consider supporting our on-going efforts to preserve the history of Leonard and Addison Township. Volunteers and donors are welcome," said McDonald to the crowd.
The following organizations and individuals made the acquisition of the old mill/grain elevator possible – Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and his team from the planning division, ITC Holdings Corp., Level One Bank, Oakland County Business Finance Corp., Oakland County Economic Development & Community Affairs, Applied Science & Technology, Inc., Harold and Jerry Hoffman and village attorney Phillip G. Adkison, of Adkison, Need & Allen, PLLC.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.