The ABCs of Lowell History: E is for Ecker’s Planing Mill

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff is telling us about Ecker’s Planing Mill, which was established in Lowell in 1873. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.


Ecker’s Planing Mill was a busy and successful establishment in Lowell for many years. What is a planing mill? A planing mill takes boards from sawmill and turns them into finished product.

The Planing Mill was begun by W. J. Ecker and Theo. W. Mason who formed a partnership in 1873. They started the planing mill and sash, door and blind factory. The mill was located on South Washington Street, two blocks south of Main Street at Front Street. A railroad spur crossed Front Street and went directly to the factory. It was only recently removed. They operated until 1883, when W.J.’s son Frank was brought into the partnership. Mason retired in 1887 and the business name was changed to W. J. Ecker & Son.

William J. Ecker served in the Civil War in Co. M, 6th Michigan Cavalry. At the battle of Winchester he received injuries that plagued him for the rest of his life. At his death in 1891 there were so many people attending that over 53 carriages followed the remains to Oakwood cemetery. Son Frank Ecker continued operating the mill. In 1899 he changed the name from Ecker & Son to Ecker’s Planing Mill.

Over the years, many different products were made, in addition to those already mentioned, lath, shingles, cedar fence posts, baskets and brick all came from the Planing Mill. The mill turned out a lot of product, evidenced by a report in 1898 that 10 men solely made peach basket crates, turning out 700 per day. The plant had been enlarged at different times so that the original part was a very small part of the total business by 1906.

Tragedy struck in February of 1910. The planing mill burned down with all contents, machinery, tools, and stock. It was totally destroyed by fire and unfortunately had little insurance. The fire was said to have been fully engaged before it was spotted. The volunteer fire department was able to save neighboring residences and nearby buildings. All fires under the boilers had been extinguished, so cause of fire was a mystery. Frank assumed the fire was caused by wiring or someone sleeping in the mill and lit a fire to stay warm. The mill and its contents represented more than a life’s work. The loss was a heavy blow to Mr. Ecker. The whole town grieved for Frank Ecker.

In 1916, Frank Ecker died. He had been active in the Lodge and E church. When he died it was said that ‘his was a disposition that sought and found a silver lining for the darkest cloud. His smile was habitual; and he always had time for a pleasant greeting. His friends are legion and the world is better because he has lived in it.”

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