A Remarkable Space with an Incredible Story
This large wood-frame structure, sitting on a cut stone foundation sandwiched between the Maumee River and the restored Miami and Erie Canal along U.S. 24 at Grand Rapids, looks remarkably simple. Yet, when you investigate its past, it is one of the most storied spaces in Northwest Ohio.
When Peter Manor, the first white settler in Providence Township, came to this area in 1808, he befriended Chief Tondoganie of the Ottawa Indians. A fur trader of French-Canadian descent originally from Detroit, Manor traded with the tribes in the area and built a special bond with the Chief. When Tondoganie and his tribe were pushed west as part of President Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy, the Ottawa Chief granted Manor 643 acres of land on the north side of the Maumee River near present-day Providence Metropark. Manor took full advantage of the gift by settling on the property and building a small sawmill along the river. In 1835, he founded the town of Providence on Chief Tondoganie‘s land grant.
The construction of the Miami-Erie Canal in the 1830s brought great expectations for Manor and his town of Providence. Although he had to surrender his sawmill to the State of Ohio under eminent domain in 1838 to make way for the canal's construction, he worked out a deal that allowed him to build a better operation along the new waterway. The controlled water flow from the recently built Providence Dam provided consistent water depth for the canal and steady power for a new grist mill, and as a bonus, Manor negotiated perpetual water rights, establishing this site for active milling for generations to come.
In 1847, just before his passing, Manor contracted Isaac R. Ludwig, a boat builder from Pennsylvania, to build a new and larger grist mill on this site along the canal. After Manor's death, Ludwig finished the mill and purchased the property. Ludwig's new grist mill included a small vertical saw to supply the lumber needs of the growing town of Providence. Sadly, the town met with misfortunes. First, a terrible fire in 1846, and then Providence was utterly devastated by a cholera epidemic in 1854.
Despite the demise of Manor’s canal town, Ludwig pressed on and prospered as more farmers arrived to settle the rich Maumee Valley farmland. He successfully operated the mill for 40 years before retiring and selling it to Augustine Pilliod in 1886. Pilliod hired a young, German-speaking man named Frank Heising as his miller—a clever move since many of the local farmers were German and Pilliod needed someone to interpret for him.
In 1895, Pilliod ordered a complete renovation of the mill. The structure was essentially rebuilt, and turbines were installed to replace Ludwig’s old breast-shot waterwheel to power the burrstones. According to the National Register of Historic Places application, after the 1895 rebuilding, "all that remains of the original 1849 structure is part of the foundation and some of the framing." In 1900, a steam engine was installed to provide power and allow the mill to continue operating under flood conditions. Pilliod also ventured into the utility business when he added a generator and sold electricity to the local community from 1908 to 1918. As the story goes, during this time, every evening at 8:55 pm, the turbines were slowed down and everyone’s lights dimmed as a signal from the mill crew that they were heading home in five minutes and the electricity would be cut off at 9:00 pm.
In 1919, Frank Heising, Pilliod's German-speaking miller, took over ownership of the mill along with several investors. Unfortunately, a fire in 1930 destroyed the upper part of the second story and the roof of the building. Consequently, the roof was rebuilt, a wood elevator was added, and the result is the one-and-a-half-story building that stands today.
Frank's son Cleo returned to operate the mill and an adjoining farm supply store after his father's death in 1931. Then, in a remarkable twist of family fate, Isaac Ludwig's grandson, Cleo R. Ludwig, the founder of the L-K Restaurant chain, purchased this historic landmark in 1971 and deeded it, along with Peter Manor's perpetual water license, to Metroparks of the Toledo Area.
In 1974, Metroparks began the restoration of the mill back to an original 1900 grist and flour mill. A turbine-powered, working sawmill with a 56-inch circular blade was added to replace the original vertical saw during the restoration process. This saw is anchored to the bedrock beneath the mill, minimizing any movement when cutting the massive logs the large blade can handle.
Today, the Ludwig mill is an authentic, functioning, turn-of-the-century grist and flour mill containing a remarkable collection of antique milling and electrical generating equipment. The mill still keeps busy supplying ground flour to visitors and lumber for Metroparks' construction projects. Nearby, lock #44 is one of the last functioning 19th Century limestone locks and a fine example of typical locks found along the Miami & Erie Canal.
While the history of this place is awe-inspiring, you really must visit the Ludwig Mill to appreciate its story fully. This building has more to see, hear, smell, and feel than any other space we've explored here at Remarkable419. The sound of the working mill hits you first. When the flowing water is opened up to pour over the turbines, the harmony of the wooden gear teeth turning together and the whirling belts emit an unmistakable sense of energy. There is no sound like it anywhere else—it is powerful and distinctive. Then the smell hits you. Some days it's the smell of fresh-cut lumber, and on others, it's the bready aroma of new milled grain. Throughout your visit, it's hard to miss the mill's extraordinary interior lighting as bits of sunlight and shadows flicker like candle light—caused by all the moving parts working together in every part of the mill. Finally, the other feeling aroused by a visit to the restored Ludwig Mill is the sense of feel. Through vibrations in the building, your body can physically feel the power of the water as it drives the millstones to grind the grain into flour or meal. It is a profound physiological reaction that travels throughout your body and helps evoke the understanding that you are experiencing living history.
Unfortunately, Metroparks has chosen to limit visits to this remarkable space to weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day due to COVID-19 protocols. Hopefully, this important historical treasure will be reopened to share local living history to the community on a regular basis in the future. In the meantime, group visits are available. You can learn more at https://metroparkstoledo.com/explore-your-parks/providence-metropark/