Red Mill & Leik Grove projects near completion
By Tom Thelen, July 2001

The City of Two Rivers has two new jewels to attract residents and visitors alike.

Along with the Portland River-walk, the many parks, and historic buildings within the city, residents can check out a historic mill and a new nature / scientific area thanks to the efforts of Charles and Edward Leik. The Leiks have been working on improving both sites over the past few years and are nearly finished with the renovations on both sites.

The completed Red Mill.
Photo by Steven Kahn, Portland, MI.

The mill, known as the Red Mill, is almost complete with just a few tasks needed to be done to the outside.

"We are pretty much done with the Red Mill," says Charles Leik. "We are going to be bringing in some gravel and grading the area and bringing the level up closer with the porch as the code requires. Plus, we will be adding some security lights and other wiring."

The refurbished mill gives visitors a chance to look back into Portland history.

"We looked at renovating the mill as creating a link with the town's agricultural past," says Leik. "Over the years, Portland has gone from a farm town to a professional city. With the stockyards now gone, the mill is the last of the physical farm buildings that were around when we had the railroad depot. All of the grain cleaning equipment is intact on the inside as is all of the storage bins."

"We also see the mill as a rendezvous point for visitors and residents," added Leik. "The mill is halfway between the high school and the city center along the river trail, so it is a good place for people to meet before going out on the river trail. Plus, it is the site for a new farmer's market."

The outside of the Red Mill was also improved to recreate the historic feel for the building. A "Portland Co-operative" sign was added to the outside as well as several advertisement signs provided by Moor Mans Feeds. The improvements should last a long time before any repairs are needed.

"When we first presented the idea, my brother and myself told the City Council that we would make it a maintenance-free building and we have done that," says Leik. "We shouldn't have to do any repairs for approximately 30 years and the roof should be good for at least 50 years. So this is a maintenance-free landmark for the city."

While Charles Leik was taking care of the details with the Red Mill renovation, brother Ed Leik focused his efforts on Leik Grove, a nature / scientific area located within Bouge Flats.

"Our father and mother were always interested in trees and we were interested in creating a memorial for them," says Ed Leik. "The city was nice enough to let us use an area of about three acres around the well houses to establish this grove for them."

Once they gained permission to use the site, the Leiks went about planting several varieties of trees within the area, all of which were native to Michigan. However, that was not an easy task.

Charles and Wilma Leik at the entrance to the Leik Grove. Stone engraving and monument design by Edward Leik.

"Getting the trees planted was a slow progress," says Leik. "The soil type in that area was not real good and it was very tough to get the trees to survive the early years. We did have to replant in some areas, but it is coming along. We are seeing some progress in some areas and in 10 years that area should start evolving the way that we had hoped it would."

Along with the trees, the Leiks also planted several varieties of bushes and shrubs to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the grove to add to the natural feel of the area. Trails are also mowed into the grass to take visitors to the different areas of the grove.

"We also have a berm area set up in an open area for groups to meet," says Leik. "We felt that this would be a good place for Scout troops and children to meet and talk about the different variety of trees and plants within the grove."

The trees and plant life are only a part of the attractions at Leik Grove. Several other items were set up for educational purposes, including a set of stones that times the seasons.

"There is an area of 13 stones that are set up based on the seasons," says Leik. "If you stand on the western end of the formation, you will see the place in the sky where the sun will come up at the spring equinox, summer solstice, fall equinox, and winter solstice. It took a lot of calculations to get those rocks set up in the right way, but it was worth it."

There are also other rock formations throughout the grove, including a rock in the shape of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan that is the basis of a sun dial. At the entrace to Leik Grove, there are rocks with two plaques; one of which dedicates the grove to George and Matilda Leik, parents of Charles and Edward, while the other plaque displays the poem "Trees" written by Joyce Kilmer.

The Leiks say that the grove and mill would not be as complete as it is today without the efforts of Steven Kahn, Tony Dixon, Bruce Bennett, Tony Bennett, and Tom Leik, who all helped in the renovation of the site as well as maintaining the area.

The Leiks hope to have signs that identify the trees, plants, and various attractions within Leik Grove within place sometime this year.

Reprinted with permission from the July 15, 2001 edition of The Portland Review and Observer.

Posted February 21, 2002