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 A Resource For Our Future

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Historic Hines Drive And Its Mills

scarlet maple tree in fall
This maple, just west of Joy Road, is just one of many beautiful trees
along the park drive.

The Rouge River
Hines Drive is a 17-mile long road the follows the path of the Rouge River from Dearborn at the south to Northville at the north. Before the coming of European settlers, the river served as the road through this country. The canoes the Anishnabeg people, who
eventually became known as the Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Pottawatomie, and later on, French and English trappers, were carried across its waters.

 A Pathway To Freedom
Because the river empties into the Detroit River, the Rouge once served as a path to freedom for escaped slaves. Coming up from the south along the path of the Underground Railroad, they would follow the Rouge to Detroit and eventually to Canada, resting during the day and traveling at night. Itís possible that some of the mills or buildings along Hines may have served as resting spots or stations during their trek. Sadly, we may never know because no records have been found to prove this fact. Itís not unexpected since sheltering runaway slaves was a federal offense and those caught doing so could lose their possessions including their home. While there were active abolitionists in the area, they did not put their deeds to paper.

Nankin Mills And Hines Drive
While there were early roads that paralleled the Rouge River, such as Ann Arbor Trail, Hines Drive was not built until 1949. Named after Edward Hines, who headed the Wayne County Road Commission, much of the roadway was constructed from land donated by Henry Ford. Ford needed to rebuild the dam in order to have a steady supply of water to produce hydroelectric power at Nankin Mills, one of the rural plants he was rebuilding or renovating along the Rouge to supply parts for his assembly plants. The dam at Nankin Mills was originally built in the mid-1800ís to store water and supply a steady source of power to turn the grind stones and belts at Nankin Mills. 


(Click on the thumbnail photos below to see a larger view of each mill as it currently appears. Most have had their exteriors and interiors extensively remodeled since they served as Ford plants, including having some windows and/or doors covered by bricks or cement block.)

The Mills Along Hines Drive

Nankin MillsNankin Mills was not the only mill along Hines Drive. Early settlers had used long recognized the Rouge as a source of power. Others that existed north of Nankin Mills along Hines Drive included (click on photos for a larger view):

 Newburgh Mill (Hines Drive and Newburgh Road) -- Newburgh millOriginally a cider mill had stood on the site in the village of Newburg. Ford built a new mill on that site in 1934 for one of his village industry plants. Like with Nankin Mills, Ford donated land around the mill for the parkway in return for Wayne County reconstructing the nearby dam, which he could use for hydroelectric power. At one time, the Newburgh plant produced 95 percent of all the drills used by Ford plants worldwide.  In 1948, the plant was closed and deeded over to Wayne County. The Wayne County Sheriffís department now uses the mill for its Parks and Mounted division.


Gunsolly Mill  (Hines Drive near Plymouth Road) -- gunsolly mill siteThere was a carding mill here and Ford used to come with his family to have their wool carded. (Carding cleans, separates, and straightens the wool fibers, producing lofty wool ready for spinning into yarn.) Ford didnít use the mill as one of his industry plants but bought it and had it relocated to Greenfield Village. The site is now a picnic area.


 Wilcox MillWilcox Mill  (Hines Drive and Wilcox Road) -- This plant was built in 1923 and stands on the site of the old Hardenbergh grist mill build around 1850. Samuel Hardenbergh also owned Nankin Mills. Because of the millís poor condition, Ford was forced to replace the mill. The mill was used by Ford to produce generator cut outs and in later years, taps. Like with other mills, a hydroelectric generator powered the machinery. In 1948, the mill and adjacent lands were deeded to Wayne County.


Phoenix Mill (Hines Drive and Northville Road) Ė This Phoenix Millmill once stood near the former town of Phoenix. The original mill stood here from 1840 to 1905 when it burned down. Ford bought the site in 1919 and built the new mill, which opened in 1922 to produce electrical parts. This mill was unique in that most of its employees were women. Because Ford didnít believe that married women should work outside the home, the women working at Phoenix were either single or widowed. The mill is in the process of becoming a museum to honor working women. View the Phoenix Mill Women's Museum Web site 


 Meads Mill (Hines Drive north of 5 Mile) Ė A former bell Meads Millfoundry was located near here. A portion of the mill including parts of the undershoot wheel can be seen. The ruins were moved to this spot when the river was relocated during the building of Hines Drive.


Waterford Mill (Hines Drive south of 6 Mile at Mill road) Waterford MillĖFord purchased the mill and dam in 1925 to produce high precision gauges. When many of the other mills were closed in 1948, production from many of them was moved to Waterford. The mill operated into the 1950ís when it was sold. It is in private hands. Up Mill Road is the former village of Waterford, including an old Cemetery. 


Northville Mill (North of Seven Mile in the village of Northville) Ė Northville MillThis mill is not on Hines Drive. It was the first of Fordís Village Industry mills to open and the last to close. Ford opened the mill in 1920.This had been a mill site since 1827. A sawmill was in operation here when Ford purchased the site. Ford finally closed the mill in the 1980ís. It is privately owned.


 Other Facts About Hines Drive
Hines Drive is more than just mills. Along its entire drive are baseball and soccer fields, a hiking and biking path, fishing docks and picnic areas. One can even rent paddle boats at Newburgh Lake during summer months. For shopping, dining or even more history, the cities of Livonia, Northville and Plymouth are close by.

Please note: Sections of Hines Drive are located in a flood plain. This means the drive may be closed after a heavy rain. This is normal. Better the roadway floods then basements downstream.

 Much of the information used in preparing this summary was adapted from ďTour of Historic Hines DriveĒ written by Nancy Darga, manager of Design, Wayne County Parks. The Friends of Nankin Mills is grateful for her hard work and her generosity in allowing us to share the material.


Web site copyright 2003 Friends of Nankin Mills