This is the second in a series featuring one of the city of Fenton’s nine parks, providing information on each and highlighting the amenities available to the public.
Since the mid-1970s, when Urban Renewal resulted in the razing of most of Fenton’s downtown buildings, there wasn’t too much foot traffic leading people to Millpond Park.
After school and on the weekends, kids and families could be seen visiting the park, perhaps fishing in the Shiawassee River, but for the most part, the park that is nestled next to City Hall and features the city’s first gazebo, was a fairly quiet place.
The dam there is also just another pleasant working feature of the downtown area, one that will keep floodwaters at bay in the event of inclement conditions.
In the late 1970s, Tim Faricy, who was very involved with the community and later served on the Fenton City Council, spearheaded development and organized a group of volunteers to build Fenton’s gazebo, at no cost to the city.
Referred to “unofficially” as Gazebo City, the city police still bear a patch on the arm of their uniforms featuring a gazebo.
When running for office in 2011, Faricy said his concerns about the city of Fenton included the lack of a viable downtown area, “My interests lean to more walkable city streets and downtown area …” he said.
Faricy’s wife, Linda, was instrumental in bringing the first Concerts in the Park series to the city on Thursday nights, which continue to be enjoyed to this day. The concerts are today sponsored by Southern Lakes Parks & Recreation and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
As the Faricys hoped and predicted, the downtown area has exploded with activity and Millpond Park is at the heart of it all.
Millpond Park is a 4-acre park on the Shiawassee River. The park is always open and there are no entrance fees. There are picnic areas, play equipment for children, benches to relax on, and fishing in the river. The gazebo is available for rental at the city offices.
Clark Dibble, one of Fenton’s original settlers, is said to have built the first dam. He built it at the site of the present dam and installed an undershot wheel to operate a small sawmill, consisting of one upright saw to cut the logs into plank boards or square timber and a circular saw to rip the edges and boards. Dibble got his sawmill running in the fall of 1834.
In December of 1836, William Fenton and Robert LeRoy came to Dibbleville (downtown Fenton) and platted the village of Fenton in the spring of 1837. Before platting the village, the men secured flowage rights for all property on both sides of the proposed millpond, giving them a 9-foot flowage right over and top of the original dam.
Flowage rights were sold and possession of the dam changed hands a few times. However, since William Fenton was a lawyer and Judge Daniel LeRoy (Robert’s father) was attorney general of the state of Michigan at the time (1837), it was a given that all legal matters pertaining to the titles and flowage rights to the mill, dam and incorporation of the village were in perfect legal order.
Today, the Department of Public Works (DPW) keeps an eye on the structure, making sure the sluice gates work and there are no obstructions at that location or at the spillway.
The farmers markets, which began nearly 20 years ago on Thursday nights along with the concerts in downtown Fenton, brought even more people to the park area.
Then, as they say, if you build it they will come. The Streetscape project, which was completed in early 2016, resulted in the building of more residential dwellings, the opening of more shops and several restaurants. It has made downtown Fenton a destination, and in the middle of it all is Millpond Park.
This summer, for the first time, the Friends of the Shiawassee held its first River Festival downtown. More than 2,000 visited Millpond Park and Rackham Park behind the community center for the festivities.