Then & Now: Dexter Cider Mill

Then & Now: Dexter Cider Mill
Emily Junkins


Doug Marrin

Many of us will happily stand in line on a sunny October afternoon for a jug of Dexter Cider Mill’s proprietary 5-apple cider blend and a bag of those crazy-delicious donuts.

Michigan’s longest-continuous-running cider mill is in its 136th year. Nestled on the banks of the Huron River in Dexter, the quaint fall stop is as popular as it is historical, drawing people in from all over Southeast Michigan.

The Cider Mill was built in 1886 by Dexter resident William Van Natter, a Civil War veteran. The September 9, 1886, edition of the Dexter Leader marked the event and scolded those who, like some today, may have been complaining about the village’s commercial expansion.

“What has come over our sedate little burg? The cider mill, which broke the ice two weeks ago, is, contrary to the croakings of some of our chronic grumblers, doing a rushing business.”

In 1898, John Wagner of the Village of Scio leased the cider mill from the aging Van Natter, who died the following year. In 1900, Wagner and Will Cromwell purchased it from the Van Natter family and updated the mill with “a fine hydraulic press which will be run by a gasoline engine.”

By 1956, John Wagner’s son, Otto, had taken over the cider mill. He installed a griddle and began selling donuts. That October, the Dexter Leader erroneously reports on the cider mill’s 100th anniversary. The paper told readers that the mill produces “approximately 100,000 gallons of cider during the three to four months each fall that it is in operation.”

For most of its life, the cider mill was primarily a commercial operation supplying stores with cider, apple juice, grape juice, and jellies. However, customers still lined up then as they do now to get their cider and donuts. The article also notes:

“Local growers to the number of 100 to 150 bring in apples for the production. Several employees are busy for many weeks to keep up with the demand for the fine cider. Often as many as 25 to 50 cars will be parked in the spacious parking lot next to the mill and customers lined up to buy cider.”

Upon Otto Wagner’s death in 1964, his son Fred continued operations. That year, the Leader notes customers were forming long lines to drink all the cider they wanted for a penny (to cover the cost of the paper cup). When Fred passed away in 1981, his wife Katherine assumed control of the mill.

The Leader's October 08, 1986 edition announced Katherine Wagner’s intention to sell the 100-year-old cider mill. Fearing a new developer might tear it down, the Village of Dexter and the Dexter Kiwanis Club organized a campaign to raise support for the mill's purchase. If successful, the Kiwanis would assume responsibility for the operations with plans to purchase the property from the village.

The Dexter Leader printed an impassioned article for readers to give their support, including a play on a famous quote, “Ask not what the cider mill can do for you—ask during the next few days, what YOU can do for the cider mill!”

The campaign raised just $1,166.05, with $525 in pledges, an amount not nearly enough. Village officials concluded the only want to get enough money was through a grant or levy a millage. But there was not enough time by the first of the year when Wagner wanted the sale completed.

Richard Koziski had first visited the Wagner Cider Mill in 1961 on a date. As a teen, he had worked in apple orchards and cider mills in Massachusetts. The cider mill was a nostalgic tug for him. “I’m going to own a mill like this someday,” he told his date. Twenty-five years later, he purchased the cider mill. That young lady was now his wife. The cider mill was a retirement project for the couple.

The Leader reports that Mrs. Wagner had other offers for the mill, but she chose to sell to the Koziskis, who she described as “fine people who will continue the cider mill operation as before.”

Rich has since sold the cider mill to his daughter and son-in-law, Nancy and Marty Steinhauer. But Rich can still be found most days at the cider mill. At 86, he still loves the mill and enjoys good conversation.

“Katherine Wagner was very specific about the fact that there were a number of people that wanted the mill, but she made the decision to sell it to us because my wife babysat her children,” explained Koziski to the Sun Times News.

“I mean, you’re talking about how things in our life that seem sort of insignificant have meaning to a lot of other people,” he says. “Just being good to other people pays off. I don’t know what else this world could do more of but to work more on that alone.”

Rich told how he owned and operated the cider mill while working for Ford. He used personal days to take Fridays off in the fall to operate the mill. His supervisors were dubious about his ability to run a cider mill and keep up with his job. He got a call from Ford one Friday while working his cider mill. The Board of Directors was taking a test drive to Ann Arbor and was coming to the cider mill.

“The next thing I know, the whole Board of Directors walk in the front door,” recounts Rich. “Here they are, enjoying themselves and shooting the bull with me like everyday guys. It was rewarding and vindication because there had been fussing at Ford about me having the cider mill. The more we talked, I had the feeling some of these guys wished they’d done something like this.”

In 2006, Rich sold the cider mill to Nancy and Marty. They have expanded the offerings to include baked goods, hard cider, and swag. And the business has grown.

“The business has grown because the area around us has developed and grown,” says Nancy. “We love that we’re always getting new people to share this tradition with.”

I’ve been here since I was a kid when my dad bought it so many years ago,” she adds. “I watched families come with kids. I watched those kids grow up and bring their kids. It feels good to carry on something that has become such a tradition for many people.”

The Steinhauers have three sons, Jacob, Michael, and Colin, who are all involved with the cider mill to one degree or another. All three want to keep the cider mill in the family when the time comes. “But Marty and I aren’t ready to hand over the torch just yet,” laughs Nancy.

It’s a little mind-boggling to think that only three families have owned the Dexter Cider Mill in its 136-year history—Van Natter, Wagner, and Koziski (Steinhauer). And a visit there is to follow in the footsteps of generations before us. We’ve always liked cider.

A couple of things to remember upon your visit to the Dexter Cider Mill: They only accept cash or check payments, but an ATM is on site. Parking is tight in their lot. But plenty of parking is available within a short distance walk. Refer to the Dexter Cider Mill map at
to plan ahead.

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