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History of the Dexter Mill

In November of 1919, approximately 50 farmers met at the Dexter Opera House and formed the Dexter Agriculture Association.  Their aim was to eliminate the “middleman” who they claimed was charging exorbitant prices for farm supplies but underpaying for their grains, produce and livestock. Each farmer put up $50 in cash and signed a note for an additional $50, which in those days was a sizeable sum.

The newly formed association bought an old house and five lots on the triangle of land bordered by Central Street, Third Street and the Michigan Central Railroad tracks. The old house was converted into a feed production facility where oats and corn, brought in by farmers, was ground in the basement.  Upstairs, employees shelled corn and added concentrate to the feed produced for hogs, chickens and cows.  They opened for business on January 1, 1920.  The co-operative idea quickly caught on and within two months there were 94 members, contributing $20,000 to the treasury.

In 1921, they began selling coal and shipping livestock for the members, charging only the cost of the shipping.  August Lesser became the manager during this time and was succeeded by Carl Bates in 1924.

Bates discontinued the shipment of livestock and started selling farm machinery, fencing and fertilizers.
In March of 1927 the association became a stock company and changed the name to the Dexter Co-op Co.  Charles Finkbeiner was the manager, a position he held for 14 years.  

Under Finkbeiner the co-op discontinued selling farm machinery and began selling lumber.  Later other building supplies were added to their stock.

The co-op did well during the Depression and quickly started to outgrow their facilities. In 1940 they broke ground on a new building.  To celebrate the grand opening of the new building on March 8, 1941 the co-op cooked up 100 pounds of free hot dogs and gave away prizes and gifts which included knives, pencils, coal, feed and baby chicks.  The new building gave the co-op the room to stock more agricultural supplies and new products such as hardware, dishes and kitchen cabinets. 

In 1949 a fire destroyed the wooden grain elevator.  The co-op built a new fire-resistant elevator where the old house had stood. 

The decline in family agriculture started to affect the business.  As famers acquired trucks, they were able drive further distances; they could sell to larger companies that offered more competitive prices than the co-op.  The co-op was slowly loosing the loyalty of the new generation of farmers. As business declined, the  co-op had to buy things in smaller volumes and therefore the prices rose.

In 1969 the decision was made to sell the business to Ray McCalla who renamed it the Washtenaw Farm and Garden Center.  The McCalla’s sold feed and farming supplies, fencing and gates, lawn and garden products, fertilizers and insecticides. 

On March 22, 1980 the Washtenaw Farm and Garden Center finished paying on their land contract, the co-op met to have its last meeting and to close the books.  Bob Mast who was the last treasurer, was able to track down a large number of the original share holders or their heirs.   

In 1979, new owners Bill Millar, Chuck and John Cares changed the name to Dexter Mill. They aimed to become a full service feed and farm store.  At some 

point the Cares bought Millar out of the business.  They expanded the business to include a greenhouse in 2008 and started selling vegetable and flower plants in the spring.  

Dexter Mill continued to evolve under the Cares’ ownership and in 2015 John looked to employee Keri Bushaw, who had a long history with the business to take over.  She came to work at the Mill in 1997 when she was just 18 years old.  When she was a kid, her father Frank worked at the Dexter Mill.  Keri learned the business from the ground up and John Cares became a supportive mentor.  When Keri took the reins, she hired her brother, Aaron Bushaw, to help run the outside operations. With the landscape of agriculture constantly changing, Keri 

and the Dexter Mill continue to look to the future.  Hobby farmers, pet owners, wild bird enthusiasts, equestrians, gardeners and full time farmers are all the heart of this thriving business.
Here’s to the next 100 years!