Nestled on the banks of the River Raisin in Sharon Township, Washtenaw County, Sharon Mills County Park occupies a site where Native Americans once hunted and where a sawmill was built in the 1830s. Later a gristmill was erected and operated by John Rice and subsequently by the Kirkwood family until the late 1920s. In 1928, Sharon Mills was purchased by Henry Ford for use as a small plant. He rebuilt the mill, added a stone addition, and installed a hydroelectric generator for power. Sharon Mills became the thirteenth Ford Village Industries plant employing approximately 15 men who manufactured cigar lighters. Regrettably, Ford's Village Industries concept proved economically nonviable and the Sharon Mills plant closed in 1946. This association with Henry Ford makes this site particularly significant according to the Michigan Historic Commission. Apart from a brief period as an antique business, through the 1950s until the close of the '80s, Sharon Mills was used primarily as a private residence. Sharon Mill was listed as a State Historic Site in 1989. In the 1990s, the mill was converted into the Sharon Mills Winery, bottling and selling Michigan wines. When the winery closed, the family sold the mill and its 24-acre site to the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission (WCPARC) in December 1999. Additional purchases of surrounding farmland have increased the park to 170 acres.
The restoration of the mill by the Commission proceeded through three phases. Cooper Design Inc., a landscape and architecture firm was engaged by WCPARC to direct the building and site restoration. Two additional acres of land upland of the mill were acquired to provide parking and a drain field that could not be accommodated at the low elevation in the flood plain where the mill rests. Cooper Design Inc. designed a new addition to provide accessible restrooms to serve the site and building. They also designed a pergola, terraces and a pavilion to complement the distinctive Greek Revival style of the mill's architecture. The landscape architecture firm of Beckett and Raeder, Inc. directed the site work including canoe and fishing access to the dam and River Raisin, and a walkway extending out over the dam with overlooks at either end. Restoration of the building and site conform to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation (i.e., the new addition is joined to the existing structure by a link that could be removed to restore the building to its original conditions, if desired, without damaging its integrity). The final step, the installation of interpretive signage, inside and out, telling the history of the site's use and transformation, occurred prior to the park's opening in September 2002.
At present, the interior of the mill is adorned with historic photos, but is predominantly open except for the five interpretive panels on the main floor of the mill. A growing collection of relevant artifacts are arranged in a display case. The Commission welcomes additions to this collection. Currently, the mill building is closed during the winter, from December through the end of March. Interpretive programs, first started in 2003, are scheduled in the spring. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the grounds of Sharon Mills County Park are open daily from dawn to dusk, until the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
WCPARC's efforts to preserve this important aspect of Washtenaw County's heritage, were recognized by the presentation of an award from the Michigan Recreation and Park Association (2004 Facility Design award).