Cook’s Mill Learning Center Facilities
The Herb Nehring Blacksmith Shop
Named in honor of long-time Tillers instructor, Herb Nehring, Tillers’ Herb Nehring Blacksmith Shop creates the ideal atmosphere for blacksmiths and metal workers to gather and exchange knowledge and inspiration. With six coal forges, one gas forge, and twelve anvils, each student engages continuously in hands-on learning. An additional room houses Tillers’ machining tools, used for farm projects and tool making classes.
The Don and Hilda Meyers Wood Shop
The Abbey Farmstead
The Abbey Farmstead at Tillers International is the key animal traction training venue at Tillers. It is a resurrection of the 1920s farm onto which Carroll and George Abbey’s grandparents moved in 1925. Carroll and George worked there first for their ailing grandfather and then as a partnership farm with their parents and each other. In the 1990s, they gave it to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation upon their deaths. Since they made such a contribution to rural history and Tillers with the Abbey Collection of farm tools, we feel that it is appropriate to honor them by preserving their farmstead. We appreciate that they only made minor changes to the buildings on this farm, choosing instead to maintain its historical function.
The new Abbey Farmstead is surrounded by hills, forest, pasture, and Tillers’ Museum and workshops. It includes about 20 acres of the best tillable land on the site. The soils are light and well drained. While not the most fertile, they do allow us to return a class to field work very soon after rain. We continuously work to increase the organic content of the soils with composting and plow downs.
Since 2003, we have built a tool shed, moved in two original chicken coops, disassembled and rebuilt the oldest barn (1860s) from the original site, and reassembled the Draft Animal Barn.
The Springhill Farmstead
The Springhill Farm was originally located in Walker, Michigan (northwest of Grand Rapids) and dates back to the 1840s. Owned by the Edison family, the Springhill Barn was built in the 1870s. Recently, the barn and farmstead became threatened by development, prompting its benefactors, Mary Tatroe and the Edison and Mawby families, to donate the barn to Tillers in an effort to preserve its historic legacy.
With a need for additional farmsteads and the generosity of Mary Tatroe and Russ Mawby in funding the moving of the barn, Tillers was delighted to help save the barn from the developers’ wrecking ball. It is now one of the oldest structures at Tillers’ Cook’s Mill Learning Center.
The Springhill Barn is a grand 1870s bank barn, which houses horse stalls and dairy stanchions in the basement. It also has a raised level drive in hay mow floor, which makes unloading and stacking hay much easier. Hay is tossed down from above, greatly reducing the amount of lifting involved. Being originally located on a hilltop dairy and fruit farm, it seemed appropriate to relocate it to one of the hilly sites in the northeast of the Cook’s Mill property. The bank barn, with a basement for livestock and a high ramp to the hay loft, fits nicely into a south-facing hillside. Some of the surrounding Cook’s Mill hilltop fields should also have adequate air drainage for apple orchards. Mary’s father was a dedicated Shorthorn and Jersey herdsman and her husband a skilled orchard man. In keeping with their spirit, Tillers has put a herd of Milking Shorthorns at the new farmstead. We are exploring reverting them to triple purpose animals (as was practiced historically) by adding milking to our current beef and draft uses.
The original farmstead also included an 18×24′ bull barn and a 30×80′ toolshed, which we plan to replicate in the future. With two floors, the toolshed had tremendous storage capacity and a simple design and construction. Tillers has carefully measured the interrelationships of the buildings on the original site in order to preserve the efficiency of several generations of planning, thought, and experience.
Tillers has also moved a large boulder with a chiseled out basin that was filled by an artesian well (thus “Springhill”), which served as a watering trough for passing horses and travelers. The boulder has the name “Springhill Farm” carved into it.
During our stone masonry classes, we have also constructed a spring house, which will serve as a cooling space for garden vegetables and dairy products to illustrate pre-refrigeration technology. We will also place a fruit and root cellar into the hill off the east porch of the spring house.
Tillers would like to thank Mary Tatroe and the Edison and Mawby families for their generous support of this project, not only in donating the barn, but also in funding its reconstruction and finishing. We’d also like to thank the volunteers who have donated time to the project.
The Springhill Barn was featured in the Fall 2009 newsletter of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network. Click to view the newsletter!
The Michigan Barn Preservation Network named the Springhill Barn its 2010 Barn of the Year!