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In the upper floors of F.W. Stock & Sons Mill, the air still smells faintly sweet. Bars of sun­light fall through broken windows and clouded glass, and insects buzz in the dust and the heat and the stillness.

The exterior of the old Stock & Son’s Mill. Julie Havlak | Col­legian

The floor is car­peted with paint flecks, dec­o­rated with pigeon feathers, and riddled with holes. Caution tape sec­tions off swathes of water damage where the rotted wood is unsafe. Aban­doned cleaning sup­plies rest by cobwebs, waiting for the next round of pow­er­washing.

But in the lower floors, every­thing is dif­ferent.

David Wheeler, CEO of Mar-Vo Mineral, trans­formed the first few levels of the five-story building. He painted the floor a glossy blue, turned the kitchen into a display room, and filled the ware­house with Lucky Buck, a national product hunters use to increase the size of deer. He patched the ceiling, stripped the electric, and pow­er­washed the first few floors.

“Part of this was an effort to revi­talize the city. This mill was a focal point of the com­munity,” Wheeler said. “It was a real black eye to the com­munity to have the biggest employer in the region for almost 100 years sitting here empty and getting graf­fitied and having windows broken out.”

The mill once dom­i­nated the region, employing hun­dreds of workers and shipping its products throughout the United States.  In the late 1800s, when Hillsdale thrived on business from the railroad, the mill was the largest family-owned plant east of the Mis­sis­sippi River.

Even as late as 2000, Stock’s Mill was worth $3.2 million to Pillsbury, a General Mills company that owned the mill before selling it a few years later.

The next owners stripped the building of equipment and shut it down. The mill sat vacant for over a decade, getting van­dalized until it became a col­lection of smashed windows, rotting wood, and graffiti. In 2010, it sold at an auction for a mere $30,000.

Wheeler remembers the mill before its decline. When the mill still pro­duced donut mix, Wheeler hauled waste products out of the mill and used it to feed his hogs.

He came back to the mill when his mineral-mixing business outgrew its rural location. Mar-Vo Mineral pro­duces Lucky Buck, and Wheeler needed more mixing bins to meet demand. The mill had the mixing bins, and Wheeler decided to pur­chase the mill and fix it up.

The lower floors now look like they once did, but Wheeler is not fin­ished. After repainting the silos, he will repair the building’s ele­vators and con­tinue land­scaping around the mill. But in the upper two floors, the decades reassert their hold.

Today, Wheeler works from an office fur­nished with hardwood from his father’s barn. His office belies the mill’s shabby rep­u­tation, and doubles as adver­tising for his next business venture.

Ever since he took down his father’s barn three years ago, Wheeler has been eyeing the high-end fur­niture and hardwood flooring business. Hillsdale’s old barns might be imprac­tical for modern farming equipment, but they are made with virgin timber — a very old, valuable wood.

“There are a lot of barns that are falling down. Most of them are going to slowly rot into the ground,” Wheeler said. “But their wood makes a really unique wood for fur­niture and flooring, and there is almost none of it available any­where in the world unless you take it out of old struc­tures. So rather than just let them rot, I’m going to try to recycle them.”

Wheeler is also recy­cling the mill’s spooky rep­u­tation. On October weekends, animals will haunt the mill. Wheeler has a whole room stuffed with taxi­dermied animals, including bears and wolves. Wheeler said he will also provide cider and donuts for the faint of heart.

Wheeler also hinted at ominous plans for the silos.

“We’re working fever­ishly at that right now,” Wheeler said. “The main part is going to be under­neath the silos. There is a lot of wall that leaves a lot of nooks and crannies to jump out of. I think we will have undoubtedly the best venue for a haunt.”

The Haunted Mill is Wheeler’s current pet project — not that he doesn’t have other day-dreams for the mill. Some of his more fan­ciful pipe-dreams include what he calls a “zero-calorie meal” — a restaurant perched on top of the silos, where patrons could reward them­selves for climbing up 80-feet of stairs with a beau­tiful vista and a hearty meal.

More prac­ti­cally, Wheeler is talking with local groups to fund painting the United States’ largest mural on the far side of the silos. He hopes to turn what was once described as an “eyesore” into a tourist attraction.

When remem­bering how Wheeler first walked into her office and asked to buy the mill, Director of Eco­nomic Devel­opment Mary Wolfram summed up her reaction as: “What? Someone could have found a use for that building? Thank you, God.”

“I think David Wheeler will be great for the mill. He is such an ambition, endeav­ouring entre­pre­neurial guy. He’s the best gift we could have gotten for it,” Wolfram said. “He has a lot of intention to fix it up so it’ll look nicer. Ulti­mately he would love to turn it into a place where people visit, so it brings in vis­itors, almost like a tourist attraction. That would be amazing.”