Then and Now: Vrelon Bates, Early Miller in Dexter

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Millstone from the Bates Flour Mill displayed outside of the Dexter Area Historical Society. Photo courtesy of DAHS

From the Dexter Area Historical Society

Vrelon Bates arrived in Washtenaw County in 1826 from Lancaster County, Massachusetts. He was employed as the first Sawyer in Judge Dexter’s sawmill on the west side of Mill Creek. In about1840, he erected a sawmill on his farm along Mill Creek on what is now Shield Road. A low-stone dam and a raceway (artificial channel) were built along the creek to create water power to run the mill.

The raceway was dug by hand at the mill site, using a pick and shovel by Obed Taylor over three years. In return, Vrelon gave Taylor 40 acres of land where he built a house using stone dug from the raceway. This home was at the southwest corner of Baker and Shield Road and was recently torn down.

The old stone house made from Mill Creek stones that graced the corner of Shield and Baker for more than 100 years. Photo courtesy of DAHS

The Mill stood between the raceway and Mill Creek. For many years it had one upright saw, used until about 1870. Grandson H. Carl Bates remembered that the old millstone could be seen where the Mill stood. Erwin Mast later purchased the site, who gave the old stone to the Dexter Area Museum in 1990.

Vrelon Bates married Eunice Wilhelm on December 28, 1836, in Livingston County. They went to Vrelon’s farm, where they had four children: Henry C., Charles, Emma J., who married DeForest Litchfield, and Mary A., who never married. The two brothers both served in the Civil War, Henry in Company K, Fourth Michigan, and Charles in the 20th Michigan Infantry. Returning to Michigan after their discharge, Henry married Nettie Negus and, in 1870, went to Kansas, where he took up farming. Charles returned to working in the Mill and farming in Dexter.

The sawmill was converted into a flour mill, and George Lyon became the manager. Charles Bates left in 1886 to go to the Yankton Indian Agency in South Dakota as a farmer to teach Native Americans farming. Here he met and married Belva Shearer and returned to the Bates farm in January of 1891. Two sons were born to them, Vernon Victor and Henry Carl Bates. Their son H. Carl Bates married Ruby Ott, and they had seven children. He went on to serve on the Dexter School Board for 29 years. Dexter’s Bates Elementary School (now Bates Administrative Building) was named for Carl and his work developing the community school system.

Today there is no sign of the Mill or raceway. There is a new bridge across Mill Creek and a walkway leading to the new High School, which is on land once owned by Vrelon Bates.

Interpretive plague displayed with the Bates Flour Mill millstone at the Dexter Area Historical Society. Photo by Doug Marrin
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