The Man Who Sold Wolf Lake Bottomland Rights

Zenas Eldred is the recorded seller of the bottomland in the Mich. Cntr. Chain-of-Lakes to the City of Jackson in 1915; this ownership has become valuable recently when oil was found deep underground (thousands of feet) in drillings both to the immediate north and to the south of Big Wolf Lake. (see deed for original copy of deed and text for text copy of deed ). In 1995, the dam was re-sold to Leoni township (see photo for photocopy of deed ). We will concentrate on Eldred's business activities and note that two buildings associated with his achievements remain downtown today!

First, let's summarize his personal history[1]. Zenas was born in 1846 in Michigan. He was living in Napoleon by 1860; he lived afterwards in Jackson. He married Helen Carter in 1870; their one son moved to the East Coast, where he became highly awarded for both his technical and yachting abilities. Zenas died in 1929, the 82-yr-old President of National Union Bank in Jackson.

Millling. For centuries, the grinding of grains into more edible form usually had the same basic components: a river, a water-wheel, and a millstone. Certainly, Jackson had a river, and in 1837 the first major flour mill is credited as being built on the Grand River; this saved local farmers having to make a trip to Dexter to turn their grains into flour.

Zenas and milling. The North Branch of the Grand River carries water from three significant lakes,forming a basin or watershed; this water funnels into a narrow opening at the Michigan Center (Mill Pond) exit, as shown. This location attracted a pioneer miller named Champlin in 1837 to build a mill. Zenas purchased the mill in 1871 - at the age of 25 - from a later miller and, as the Atlas drawing below depicts, produced a significant output of flour barrels (bbls/day). For a brief period of time (1883-1884), Eldred became manager of the Jackson Paper Co. and also the Michigan Coal Co. He resigned to pursue what is the highlight of his milling career, The Eldred Mill.

In the 1830s, mills began converting from water-power to coal-fired steam engines. Also, there was increasing pressure to produce different grades of flour (e.g., "Pillsbury's Best"), requiring sifting with "bolting" machines. In the 1870s, a Cleveland company Smith Middlings Purifier was becoming known for designing such machines. When they built a Jackson plant, Eldred saw his

opportunity with his milling experience. He left Jackson Paper and he and Smith Middlings built "Eldred Mill"[2] downtown near both Middlings and the railroad for arriving grain and flour exports. His mill was the most modern in Jackson and shipped nationally, exploiting Jackson as a railroading center. The Cit-Pat regularly advertised his grades of flour, with "Half Patent" and "Eldred Flour" grades near the top. He was, in short, the town miller! History records his old Mich. Cntr. mill completely burned in 1919 under different ownership.

What's left.He retired to his second business calling (below) in 1897, selling to S. S. Heywood.

Fortunate for history, a building from this era remains in Jackson. Next to Howard's Feed Store on the north side of Glick and before Jackson St. is a small windowless building now used by Howard's. In a remarkable historical "save", Howard's has kept letterhead stationery from the Heywood era, showing the Eldred/Heywood mill (above figure) with added engineering (Howard's) building to the left and added grain elevators to the right.

Zenas and banking. In 1883 and before he co-founded Eldred Mill, Zenas became one of seven cofounders of the Union Bank, at 122 W. Michigan and capitalized at $100000. After he retired from milling in 1897, he returned to banking; his banking titles included investment advisor, vice president, and finally president. When he died as president in 1929, the (National) Union Bank was capitalized at over $8 million, more than 3 times his closest Jackson rival. The dominance of the National Union Bank in the city was also obvious from its impressively-tall building at 120 W. Michigan (right)[2]. In fact, the reader will recognize the National Union Bank Building today; it is now the County Building, still among the tallest in Jackson. The County Building, then, is at least 80 years old and began as the National Union Bank building, where Zenas presided near the end of his life!

Zenas’ Legacy. Zenas’ achievements spanned from town miller to major bank president, to the benefit of most Jackson area residents. Few at the time rated a frontpage picture/story at his 1929 passing. Clearly, Zenas had the knowledge and influence to pull off his unusual bottomland deed of 1915!

Notably, the MC dam built on his property that led to his bottomland claims was unchallenged by happy MC Chain waterside residents of the day; MC pond became a lake, and other waters widened and deepened to varying extents. But will history record a belated cost to lakefront owners of losing their bottomland rights normally prescribed by law?

What is the history of Wolf Lake drilling as of 2013? - click here

[1] Data obtained from Zenas' genealogical tree (the Apsey tree) on
[2] Figure obtained from "The History of Business and Industry in Jackson, Michigan," by the Ella Sharp Museum