Historic Mill Freeport Burns To Ground; Devastates Community & Owners

Posted at 5:47 PM, Mar 28, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-29 07:43:46-04

FREEPORT, Mich.– A historical mill located in the small village of Freeport is now just a pile of rubble and smoldering debris.

Early Thursday morning, fire tore through the Cheesebrough Corp. and burned it to the ground.

It took seven fire departments to put out the flames, but hot spots continued to burn throughout the day.

Nobody was hurt, but people in the community are taking it hard.

The factory, located on the main drag along with the grocery store, library, and family restaurant, made wood rakes and golf flag poles and was a staple in Freeport.

“It’s the last continuous operating wood rake factory in the U.S.,” said John Van Tol. His family has owned the mill for the last 25 years and even has a place on the property.

It was filled with their memories.

“All my brothers and sisters would run through the mill at night and play hide and seek,” remembers Van Tol. “There were kittens born here, bonfire parties, graduation parties would be held here. There is so much.”

Van Tol says it was much more than a business for his dad. “When you live on the property, you can see your office in the morning, and you go to work and come home.” It was a his hobby, and it was his life.”

The Freeport Historical Society shared a video with Fox 17 that gave an inside look at operations. Built in 1876 as a saw mill, the building still had a lot of the old equipment. “The old steam room and boiler, the way things worked, it was just a very interesting place,” said Van Tol.

“I remember everything there, and now it’s just gone.”

Firefighters were still working on a cause late Thursday.  The owners are looking at rebuilding but have not announced any plans.

Three of the Van Tol siblings worked at the mill with their father.

Fox 17 got a chance to survey the smoldering damage from the sky, thanks to pilot Mark Noteboom at the Hastings City Barry County Airport.