Amish craftsmen putting up new roof on old Edmore building

By Robin Miller • Last Updated 11:03 pm on Friday, December 02, 2011

Amish craftsmen work on the back half of the roof at the former General Bag Corp. factory in Edmore. The building will become an Amish marketplace, farmer’s market and trailhead next year.— Daily News/Robin Miller

An image of yesteryear, horses and buggies have returned to the Fred Meijer Heartland Trailhead in Edmore.

Amish workers are constructing a new roof on the historic late-1800s General Bag Corp. factory building.

The new roof is part of the Edmore Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) plan to develop the building into an old-fashioned marketplace containing 40 shops and a farmer’s market.

Area Amish artisans and craftsmen are planning to sell their products in the marketplace.

“We’re interested in bringing things here, but we’re only a small group and can only do so much,” lead Amish craftsman Glen Mast said. “If they (the DDA) can get a market established here, there are going to be other Amish communities in the area that will also contribute.”

The building also will serve as a trailhead for the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail. The DDA anticipates the location will become a destination point for trail users from Greenville, Sidney, Stanton and McBride to the south and Vestaburg, Elwell and Alma to the northeast.

Natural born craftsman

Mast has been crafting his entire life. He arrives at the Edmore building site each morning at 8 a.m. after traveling 10 miles in a horse-drawn buggy.

Maintaining a simple 19th century lifestyle in a modern world, Mast doesn’t have fancy power tools, indoor plumbing, an automobile, a cell phone or a television. He grows his own food, uses lanterns for light and heats his two-story farmhouse with a wood stove.

As a craftsman by trade, Mast’s innate ability and knowledge of working on lopsided barns and old buildings surpasses that of many engineers, despite his eighth-grade education. Attending high school is not allowed in the Amish culture.

Mast said his education after grade school involved only hands-on training.

“I started working alongside my dad at around 12 years old as soon as I could swing a hammer,” Mast said. “In our community, projects would come up and I’d be involved. It’s part of our lifestyle, our way of living.”

Since the roof is insulated above the interior pine timbers, the wood will remain exposed to maintain a rustic charm.

Fixing Edmore’s historical structure

It has taken a bit of creative engineering in working with the 125-year-old structure. The brick walls and corners of the 30,000-square-foot building aren’t exactly square like many old buildings.

Mast quickly discovered the width of the 176-foot-long building narrowed about seven feet from one end to the other. He believes the original builders were forced to reduce the width to avoid being too close to the roadway.

“That is my guess,” Mast said of the slanted walls. “It’s out of square and looks like they just took the wall and pushed it over.”

Mast used pine timbers made at his sawmill in Blanchard to carefully engineer custom-made trusses to accommodate the building’s width variance. A daily crew of six to nine Amish workers cut the wood with hand saws and a saw mill driven by a four-stroke gasoline engine.

After the trusses were secured, boards were nailed across them, topped with black plastic, four inches of Styrofoam insulation, plywood and blue steel roof panels. They will match the bathroom facility and pavilion on the premises.

The roof project is expected to be completed by the end of November, according to DDA President Jack Miller. More work on the building is planned for the spring to make space for a farmer’s market on the north end.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture awarded a $60,000 grant to develop the farmer’s market.

“Part of the grant will be used to educate people on how to utilize local food sources to create small businesses,” Miller said. “Advertising to promote the market to vendors and buyers, an ice machine and parking lot gravel will also be purchased.”

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