The History of Wiard’s: From Plows and Cider to Soda and Scare-tainment… an American story

wiarddog2a

As a rule, I try not to talk about local businesses unless I have something good to say about them, which is why, over the 12 years or so that I’ve been posting here, I’ve never mentioned the “agri-entertainment complex” that is Wiard’s. Call me old fashioned, but I like my cider mills without paintball, apple cannons and people jumping out from behind styrofoam gravestones with bloody axes, screaming “Arrrrrgh!” I can accept the occasional, tastefully-appointed corn maze, but that’s pretty much as far as I’m willing to go beyond the cider the donut basics. When you have kids, though, you find yourself doing things you normally wouldn’t. And, yesterday, we finally broke our “No Wiard’s Ever” rule, and took Clementine there to meet up with some school friends who wanted to spend their afternoon running between haunted houses and hayrides. And, to be honest, we didn’t have a horrible time. Arlo enjoyed riding the fire truck through the woods, and, judging from the photos, Clementine didn’t have such a bad time either. Sure, I was freaked out by the silently-staring dog-men who, in my opinion, are 100-times more terrifying than anything one might encounter in one of the several haunted houses on the property, but it wasn’t as panic-enducing as I’d feared. If you look beyond the “scare-tainment” aspects, and the dollar store Disney feel of it, there are actually some things to like on the “89 acres of terror,” like the giant bin of dried corn kernels that you can submerge yourself in, and the surreal karaoke stage, where kids line up to sing Pharrell’s “Happy” one after another in the shadow of a warehouse labeled “insane asylum.” And, best of all, if you’re a loser like me, there’s the little history area behind the wall of carmel apples and apple fritters, where I learned that, about 5 generations back, the Wiards used to bottle soda here in Ypsi.

wiardbottle1

wiardbottle2

At some point, I’d like to write a more exhaustive post about the Wiard family, who first opened their cider mill and apple orchard 177 years ago, on the the property that is now home to the Willow Run airport. (George Wiard, the son of Lyman Wiard, who first arrived in Ypsi in 1826, bought the land in 1837 and planted the orchard. His ancestors then moved the orchard a little over 100 years later, after selling the original property for the construction of the Willow Run bomber plant.) I’ve spent the last few hours reading through what materials I could find online, and trying to determine what brought this branch of the Wiard family here from the east coast, where they owned a profitable business – the Wiard Plow Company. (The company, founded in East Avon, New York by Thomas Wiard, a blacksmith and farmer, in 1804, moved to Batavia, New York in 1876, when the citizens of that town apparently lured them away with financial incentives. The company remained in business, producing plows and agricultural equipment until the 1950’s. If you’re interested, you can find one of George Wiard’s 1881 plow design patents online. This, I’m assuming, is a different George Wiard than the one who started planting apple trees in Ypsi in 1837, but I suppose I could be wrong.) While I don’t have any clue what brought Lyman Wiard here, it would seem, based on the fact that the Wiard Plow Company operated a warehouse on Woodward Avenue, in Detroit, that a connection remained between the New York Wiards and the Michigan Wiards. (The pamphlet cover below references the Detroit facility.)

wiardplow150As I’ve yet to really put any significant work into my own genealogy, I know I shouldn’t be spending my time researching the lives of Charles Griswold Wiard, George Darius Wiard, Lyman Wiard and the rest of the Wiard clan, but I do find it incredibly interesting, and I suspect that I’ll keep digging. It’s fascinating stuff… a family of driven entrepreneurs, beginning with plows shortly after the American Revolution, and evolving into “agri-entertainment” and “scare-tainment” in the modern era. I mean, it’s interesting enough that 8 generations of this family has been here in Ypsi, but, when you add to it the fact that they’ve morphed so dramatically in terms of direction, it’s really kind of poetic, and reflective of the ever-changing world in which we live. Weird, yes. But beautiful. And very American. I’d say there’s probably a book in it somewhere.

For the time being, though, I’m just interested in finding out more about Everett Wiard, the founder of the Ypsilanti Bottling Works. (Everett was the third son of George and Ann Wiard, born in Ypsilanti in 1871.) Here’s a listing from the 1905 City Directory.

WiardBottlingWorks

I’d known, of course, that regional soda companies had existed, but I’d never heard of the Ypsilanti Bottling Works, and I’d like to know more. So, if you’re aware of any details about the company, the extent of their operation, or how they made their products, please let me know… My guess, and I could be absolutely wrong about this, is that Everette began by bottling apple cider, and decided to branch out into mineral water during the Ypsilanti mineral water boom, and that the sodas came later. That’s just a theory, though. And I’d love to know what really happened.

As for the Wiard’s of today, I wish them well. It’s not easy to make money in today’s world, and they’ve apparently found a way to do it. It may not be a business that resonates with me, but I can appreciate the fact that others enjoy what they’re doing, and I’m happy that they’re providing jobs for people in the area. (Where else can a man confined to a soiled dalmatian suit find steady work these days?) When I first started thinking about this, I was of the opinion that their ancestors, if they could see what was happening at the orchard right now, would start spinning in their graves. (“Apples are for eating, you morons, not for shooting out of a cannon!”, I imagined them screaming.) Now, though, after having thought some more about the entrepreneurial lineage of the Wiards, I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m pretty certain that they’d be happy that their descendants had found yet another way to make money from apples.

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14 Comments

  1. anonymous
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    As sad as small town theme parks are, small town zoos are worse.

  2. K2
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Who gets assigned to the dog costume? I’ve often wondered that.

  3. Mr. X
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I long for the days when every town had their local beer, potato chip and soft drink.

  4. Obvious Oblivious
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    1. I was struck by the mention of Wiards Plow moving to Batavia, so I followed the links, and found the following statement: “Thomas Wiard, a blacksmith and farmer, founded the business in 1804 in East Avon, N.Y. The company came to Batavia in 1876 and moved to a location on Swan Street that was purchased for them by the village’s citizens.” I’d naively thought that this was a new phenomenon. (We’re building a hockey rink for a billionaire in Detroit right now.) Apparently there really is nothing new under the sun.

    2. Has anyone ever determined whether or not there were any special properties in Ypsilanti mineral water, or was it all marketing?

    3. “Dollar Store Disney” is the test best descriptive I’ve ever heard for Wiards.

  5. Eel
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    How do you know that the “dog men” even work there?

  6. Mike
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I’ve been taking my son to Wiard’s since 2009. It’s not too bad. I like the slides they just added this year, back by the corn maze. My favorite part is this rather snarky sign that’s been hanging up in the Mini Golf area for as long as we’ve been going there.

    http://www.classcreator.com/000/2/0/0/2/userfiles/file/wiards.jpg

    Starting to lose faith that Rock Solid Concrete is ever going to show up.

  7. Posted October 20, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    The most outstanding field trip ever was going to Wiard’s. Each kid got one–count ’em–ONE apple. We went through the haunted house and it was just one guy. He would say something and then disappear and a “monster” would come out. The monster would go away and our tour guide would come back. Rinse, repeat. Thank goodness most of the kids were 7 years old and enjoyed it…the kids in middle school were laughing so hard that they weren’t even making any noise and just sort of bouncing off the walls with tears coming down their faces.

  8. Posted October 20, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    And speaking of people wearing animal costumes….
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmOoekbK6YI

  9. Posted October 20, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Damn, I hadn’t seen the Rock Solid Concrete sign. Now I feel like I have to go back. Are there other little things that I should be sure to see if I do sneak back in, dressed as a dalmatian?

  10. Mike
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Hmm, no other easter eggs I can think of. One thing I would avoid however, is hole punch #5 in their corn maze as my 6-year-old took a giant dump near it yesterday. Nature called and he couldn’t be persuaded to make it back to the bathrooms. We just stopped by Wiard’s for a brief visit though, on our way to DeBuck’s in Belleville. Way more attractions, especially for bigger kids, like the giant slide
    http://s3images.classcreator.com/2/001/2/2626366.jpg
    and hamster wheels
    http://s3images.classcreator.com/2/001/2/2626365.jpg

  11. RMc
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Ah, Wiard’s. My college radio station went to a Wiard’s hayride in 1986 that led to much drunken debauchery. Good times, good times.

  12. Steven Seiler
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I have information about owners after the Wiards as it connects to a book I’m writing! Feel free to email me and possibly no things the other doesn’t?

  13. Bob
    Posted May 27, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I can’t wate to reed that book.

  14. Steven Seiler
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m definite the bottles shown above are not 1800s !

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