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.
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.)
As 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.
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.