The Big Cheese

The Cheese Lady, located in the Downtown Farmington Center, stands on hallowed ground—in the cheese-making realm, at least.


Farmington has a legacy of cheese. It started in 1889, when local resident Fred Warner opened a cheese factory on the site of what is now the Sundquist Pavilion. Later, he would go on to become governor of Michigan.

And in Farmington, his factory would kick off a niche empire that dubbed Warner the “Big Cheese” of Michigan.


Cheese was in Fred Warner’s blood. Although raised in Farmington, Fred was adopted. His birthplace was Hickling, Nottinghamshire, an English dairy-farming community famous for Stilton Blue Cheese.

Warner started his cheese-making venture at the age of 22. “I was fortunate in getting a fine cheese-maker from Canada,” Warner told the Detroit Free Press in August 1906. After he had the machine, he went out to drum up business. “It was tough work,” he recalled. “Really, in the first two years I worked harder to get started than in all my life since. Prices were close, competition sharp. Had I not been lucky enough to get a good cheesemaker, I would have failed.”

Either way, a cheese factory wasn’t terribly expensive.

farmington factory front view

Warner’s, with an upstairs room for the cheese-maker, cost $2,500. “It was a wooden building down a lane—across from where the Methodist Church is now located,” remembered Murray Moore, who lived across the street from the Warner family from the 1890s to 1986.

Milk was supplied by local farmers, who either brought it into town or sent it via pickup wagon.


In its first year, the Fred M. Warner Cheese Company produced 80,000 pounds of cheese. Within a decade, it had become Farmington’s most prominent industry.

ad with sketch of farmington factory.jpg

Local success wasn’t enough. In 1894, Warner opened a Novi factory, near Grand River and Novi Road. The next year, he opened one in Franklin. Often, Warner bought out his competitors; in 1901, muckraking reporters at the Detroit Tribune printed rumors of a cheese monopoly. Warner’s 13th and final factory, in Livonia, came in March 1907. By this time, total output had reached 1.5 million pounds of cheese a year.

places Warner cheese was sold

Most of Warner’s cheese was sold in Michigan. Customer records showed 48 distributors in Wayne County, 38 in Oakland County, and 24 in Ingham County.

There were outlets in the Thumb area, on the west side of the state, and as far north as Oscoda.


Cheese was sold at the downtown Farmington factory, too. “Good cheese always on cut,” Warner advertised in the Farmington Enterprise in 1904.

farmington factory side view.jpg

Apparently, the factory also gave free samples—making it popular with local kids. “Warner’s Cheese Factory…was a good place to stop when hungry,” reminisced Harley Waters in Farmington, Michigan in the Early 1900s. “Nate Eisenlord [probably an employee] would give his young visitors a handful of curd to get rid of them—or possibly because he liked them.”

Warner cheese must have been tasty. It won first place awards from the Michigan Dairymen’s Association, took prizes at the Michigan State Fair, and earned a gold medal at Michigan Agricultural College. “Fred M. Warner stands without a peer in the state as the best cheese man,” the Oxford Leader wrote in 1901. “He has built up his reputation by putting into the market the best quality of goods that could be made.”


When Warner entered the political sphere, he didn’t hesitate to combine his product and his politics.

Warner cheese political cartoon.jpg

He served cheese and crackers at rallies and speeches, and he often featured large cheeses at State Capitol receptions.

Political cartoonists had a field day. “Warner is the Big Cheese,” ran one caption. (“Big cheese” was slang for an important person, or someone with a lot of money—a fitting nickname for a prosperous cheese-maker.)


All joking aside, Warner’s business contacts served him well when he was mentioned as a candidate for governor. Farmers and businessmen alike knew him by name and by reputation.

another political cartoon.jpg

Warner served as governor from 1905-1911. In 1915, Warner’s venture was renamed the Warner Dairy Company, and started selling Cloverland Farm milk.

Warner Dairy truck.jpg

The Detroit Urban Railway built a spur track directly to the Farmington factory and outfitted a refrigerator car for shipping—the “only car of its kind in the country,” according to the April 16, 1915 Enterprise.

After Warner’s death in 1923, the company was run by his sons, Howard and Harley. It was dissolved in 1925.





Battle with the Boxers: How Fred Warner Brought Primary Elections to Michigan

This Tuesday, voters across Michigan will head to the polls and nominate candidates for the U.S. presidential election.

That wasn’t always the case. Prior to the 20th century, candidates at both state and national levels were nominated behind closed doors by party bosses. Ordinary citizens had little say.

In 1907, Michigan governor Fred Warner of Farmington made it his mission to change that.

gov warner


Michigan’s initial attempt at a primary election law was passed in 1905, Warner’s first year of office. But it was not mandatory, and proved too expensive and confusing to implement.

Warner Political cartoon

Warner wasn’t about to give up.

The battle began in April 1907, when Warner suggested several amendments to the 1905 law. Among them were campaign expense reports, nominations for U.S. senator, and one set day for all Michigan primaries.

Front and center was a clause requiring candidates for governor/lieutenant governor to win 40% of the vote—rather than a majority—to obtain nomination. Otherwise, it would revert to the old system. Warner saw this as a power grab and wanted the clause dropped.


A bill with Warner’s requests passed overwhelmingly in the Michigan House of Representatives. The Senate, however, clashed over the 40% clause, splitting the vote 16-16.

Party politics weren’t to blame. All 32 senators were Republicans, like Warner. But while half supported the governor, the other half had formed an anti-administration faction, nicknamed the “Boxers” after the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China.

The Boxers wanted to keep the 40% clause in. And with half the Senate consistently voting against the governor, no reform could be passed. Frustrated, Warner called an additional session for October. But the Boxers still stood firm. “The special session approaches its close with a rattle and a bang and confusion,” one witness wrote as bill after bill failed in succession. Finally, on October 17, after eight hours of debate, the Senate came to a compromise.

The reformers had lost on the 40% clause. And primaries remained optional, requiring districts to petition for inclusion. “Obnoxious provisions,” Warner labeled them. (Wider reforms would come in 1909.) Yet the new bill had one real advantage: Unlike the status quo, it was workable enough to be implemented.

Despite the compromise, the fireworks were far from over. As the session prepared to conclude, Warner sent a message to the legislature, slamming the Boxers for blocking true reform.

State Republican 10-19-1907

The Boxers called for a half-hour recess to craft a reply.

Then, unbeknownst to them, all but one of the governor’s supporters fled the Senate.


When the recess ended, the Boxers found themselves in a bind: They had a resolution, but no one to hear it, and no quorum. A call of the Senate was made, demanding complete attendance, with the Boxers insisting on the “haste and hailing of the absentees…if they had to be brought in shackles.”

Then came the question of how one sergeant-at-arms was to capture 15 truants. A.J. Tuttle, the Boxer leader, was in a white-hot heat, and called out the Lansing police. As a precaution, the remaining senators were locked inside the chamber, so none could escape.

At 10 p.m., a report came in that Senator Thomas Allen of Flint had been captured at the Grand Trunk train depot and was being brought back, handcuffed and hooked to ball and chain. A moment later, another report said that four others had been arrested at an opera house.

Unfortunately for the Boxers, all managed to escape. Allen somehow outran the police chief. The opera-goers “tweaked” their fingers at the officer and walked away. Another senator jumped a moving train. The only one brought in was Fred Martindale of Detroit, nabbed from bed at his hotel.

He was enough for a quorum, though, and the Boxers ended up delivering their protest speech to two administration-friendly senators.


Revised primary law went into effect with the new year. And despite predictions that Warner had signed his political death warrant, he won a third-term victory, becoming the first governor elected under Michigan’s primary system.

warner flyer for 1908 primary

“I think there should be as large a turn-out as possible,” said Warner, referring to the state’s first primary.

This Tuesday, on Michigan’s 2016 primary election day, let’s aim for that. Let’s pay tribute to the tenacity of this Farmingtonian, who risked his political future to put power in the hands of the people.

See you at the polls.


Note for further reading: A more in-depth version of this article appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Michigan History magazine.

What’s To Come in 2016


The Governor Warner Mansion, Farmington’s museum of local history, is gearing up for some exciting changes in 2016.

First and foremost of the changes apply to the house itself. For close to a decade, a rear addition to the 149-year-old building has been gradually settling, causing a noticeable feeling of walking “downhill” in the kitchen at the back of the house. This year, that will be repaired. (Keep an eye on Mansion Musings—we’ll be reporting back with details about the renovations, a tour of the construction site, and a glimpse at what’s under the floor of what was once the Warner family’s back porch.)

Another change comes in Warner Mansion leadership. Currently, the Mansion is run by an all-volunteer staff and overseen by Farmington City Clerk Sue Halberstadt. But now, with the work of running Farmington’s 2016 presidential elections on the horizon, Halberstadt said she needs to “get back to clerking.” In response, a new contract position was created: Director of the Governor Warner Mansion. Interviews were held on January 27, and a final decision will be announced early this month.

We’re also in the process of putting together a Warner Mansion website, scheduled to launch sometime this spring. On it, you’ll find information about upcoming events for the 2016 season—new programs and returning favorites alike.


The Warner Mansion officially opens on April 3 with the annual kickoff Spring Open House. But this year, it’s not the first event of the season. That honor goes to Pages in the Parlor, the Warner Mansion’s brand-new book talk series.

This free program will run from March through June on the first Thursday of the month, 7 p.m. Each month will feature a history-themed presentation by a recently-published author, followed by a Q&A session and book signing. (Titles will be announced later in February.) As the name suggests, it’s held in the Warner Mansion’s living room, creating a unique opportunity to experience stories of the past in an authentic historic setting.

Skipping ahead to spring brings the Fashion Show on May 12, featuring selections from The Clothing Cove of Milford. Tickets will go on sale in mid-February.

May also kicks off the monthly Porch Party Series: evenings of music, food, and family fun on the biggest front porch in town. The events are held at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month, except for May’s, which will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 19.

First in the series is May’s Turn-of-the-Century Picnic: a campfire with hot dogs and s’mores, plus live music by the Sweet Adelines of Windsor. June 9 brings Jazz at the Mansion, featuring the Tom Dennis Quartet—plus a tasty ice cream social.

When July’s porch party comes around, it’s Founders Festival time. In the spirit of the parade’s disco theme, we’ve dubbed our July 14 party Thursday Night Fever: a family-style kickoff to the Founders Festival weekend, complete with costumes, dancing, and disco music with DJ Captain Morgan.

The Friday of Founders Festival will bring Kids’ Day at the Mansion, with a petting zoo, pony rides, and face paintings. On Saturday, the Warnerettes will march in the parade, and the house will offer tours, the ever-popular flea market, and live music all afternoon.

August 11 wraps up the porch party series with Floats and Farmington History, featuring the Peace Jubilee Civil War band—and, of course, some frosty treats. More treats are in order a few weeks later at the annual First Ladies Tea & Talk on August 21, held under a tent in the elegant backyard gardens.

Rounding out the event series will be the annual Ghost Night spooktacular (October 15), as well as the Farmington Tree Lighting (December 3) and a repeat of 2015’s sellout December event, the Holiday Splendor Tea (December 8).

We hope to see you in 2016 at the Home of Farmington History.

Holiday Tea Raises Funds for Museum

Around 130 guests attended the inaugural Holiday Splendor luncheon and tea, a fundraiser for the Gov. Warner Mansion, Farmington’s house museum of local history.

The event, held at the Pine Lake Country Club in West Bloomfield, was a festive affair, with ladies (plus a few gents) decked out to the nines in their holiday best. Entertainment included live music, dozens of raffle prizes, a silent auction, and a live auction of a catered tea for six, to be held in the dining room of the historic 1867 Warner Mansion.


Eve Izzo of White Lake purchases a raffle ticket from Warner Mansion volunteer Mary-Jeanne Shore.

IMG_6988Farmington Deputy City Clerk Sue Preuss (at left) watches while Andrea Fields (Detroit), Pam Becker (St. Clair), and JoAnne McShane (Farmington) enter the silent auction.

IMG_6944Toni Dombrowski (Macomb Township) contemplates the silent auction prizes.

IMG_7007Jennifer Edwards (West Bloomfield) and Cathy Lassiter (Bloomfield Hills) watch the raffle prizes being drawn during lunch.

IMG_7033Tracy Freeman (Farmington) models the Mr. Song hat that she won in the raffle.

IMG_7020From left to right: Judy Barrett (Farmington Hills), Louise Doute (Taylor), and Verna Paul-Brown (Taylor) hold hands during the “Ring of Friendship” greeting.

IMG_7029Music for the tea was provided by Warner Mansion pianist Annika Taylor, a Farmington resident and history student at Madonna University.

IMG_7047Dessert: A chocolate-covered bombe cake served with berries, whipping cream, and a drizzle of raspberry sauce.

IMG_7048Linda Pudlik (at right) prepares to auction off the event’s top prize: Tea for six in the dining room of the historic 1867 Governor Warner Mansion, catered by Kelly Guarano of Kelly’s Cucina (at left).

IMG_6976Sherrie Stewart and Brian Golden of the Farmington Historical Society attended the tea in festive attire.

Fred Warner: College Bound

flag from around 1900, orig dark green and cream

What was college like in 1880? Not too terribly different from today, according to the correspondence between Fred Warner—one day to become governor of Michigan—and his family back in Farmington.

With one notable exception: Digging ditches.


For most 19th-century children, schooling finished around age 14. Not so with Fred.

fred warner young

Fred Warner, as he would have looked around the time he was attending Michigan Agricultural College (now MSU). Courtesy of the Farmington Community Library.

His adoptive father, P.D. Warner, was a firm believer in the importance of education: “you will be permitted to stand with the noble, the learned, and the honored of earth, when you arrive at man’s estate,” he once said.

The Warners owned a 250-acre farm south of town, so Michigan Agricultural College—the forerunner of Michigan State University—was a natural choice. It was a hands-on experience for its roughly 200 students, who worked in the fields and with animals on a model farm in addition to regular studies.


Fred was assigned Room 111 in Wells Hall.

wells hall 1885

Wells Hall in the mid-1880s. Courtesy of Flickr.

Like any freshman 70 miles from family, he started out homesick. “We were sorry to hear you were feeling so unsatisfied with your surroundings, but we expected that you would be a little lonely at first among so many strangers and so far from home,” his parents wrote on September 7.

After some words of assurance, P.D. continued with advice on making new friends. “Leave the boisterous boys to themselves and seek the association of the more refined and mingle as much as possible with your teachers and the Professors of your college. Because you cannot help becoming like your associates either good or bad…”


P.D. needn’t have worried. Fred had always been a stellar student; one Farmington high school certificate showed a 98 in zoology. But evidently, heavy farm work didn’t suit Fred, who wasn’t used to outdoor physical labor. The weather turned chilly—the dorms weren’t much warmer—and before he had been away 10 days, Fred came down with a severe cold.

His father tried to reassure him: “I presume your garden work will not be all ditching, but whatever it is, you must take it easy.”

view from farm lane, 1890s

View from Farm Lane on the Michigan Agricultural College campus during the 1890s. From the MSU Photograph Collection.

Granted, it was partly Fred’s fault: he hadn’t been dressing for the weather. “I was sorry when your Ma informed me that you had no [long] underwear with you, because you need it as much now as you would in midwinter,” his father counseled. “I guess you had better buy a pair of undershirts at the store, and put one on, they will not cost more than $1…”

The undershirts turned out to be too little, too late. Before the month was out, Fred had come home for a three-week stay to get over his illness.


By mid-October, Fred was back at school, scrambling to make up for lost time.

Michigan and its resources. ... Compiled under authority of the State by Frederick Morley. ... Second edition. [With a map.]

Michigan Agricultural College as it would have looked when Fred Warner attended. From “Michigan and its resources” by Frederick Morley, published 1882.

On the 19th, his father penned a bit of motivational advice:

The time has come in the world’s history when brains are to determine the power of individual influence, and every man is judged according to the strength of his mental abilities which depends upon the proper education… to accomplish this study, persistent effort is necessary…

But if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Studying by lamplight started to take its toll: on November 3, P.D. wrote, “…glad you were getting along so well in your studies, but sorry that your eyes were getting weak. You must be very careful and not over tax them any more than is absolutely necessary.” Thankfully, Pa’s prescription—salt-water eye drops and a shade for his lamp—seemed to do the trick.

P.D.’s letters weren’t all flowery advice. Most were interspersed with news from home—Old Man Gibbs’s third marriage, a new calf, Farmington politics. P.D. was a Republican, and his November 3 letter included a copy of the Republican ticket.


Fred stayed at college through the end of the semester. Then, he sold his room and books to another Farmington boy and went home—for good.

Back where he wanted to be, Fred would go on to manage his father’s store and, later—in a throwback to his college days—operate a number of successful dairy farms and 13 cheese factories.

1994 Fred and Harley Warner

Fred Warner and his son Harley outside one of the numerous Warner cheese factories. Courtesy of the Farmington Community Library.

Maybe father knew best, after all.

Tea Talk Honors U.S. First Lady Edith Wilson

Petticoat Government Tea and Talk copy

First Lady Edith Wilson graced the poster for the tea talk in her honor. Design by Radhika Guru/Twopenny Creations.

The U.S. has yet to have a female president. But for nearly two years after World War I, one woman virtually ran the Executive Branch: Edith Wilson, the subject of the Governor Warner Mansion’s fifth annual First Ladies Tea and Talk last Sunday, August 23.



Hats by Rachelle Willnus were for sale at the tea talk.


Elegant fascinators, designed by Rachelle Willnus.

As three o’clock approached, colorful hats bobbed across the yard as guests arrived to shop jewelry, teapots, and fascinators by Farmington Hills designer Rachelle Willnus.


Jewelry sale on the Warner Mansion porch.


The Warner General Store dressed up for teatime, too.

Luncheon, served in the gardens, was provided by Kelly’s Cucina, a gluten-free caterer (


Decorations as well as dainties were provided by caterer Kelly’s Cucina.


Warner Mansion volunteer Annika Taylor assists Kelly Guarano (at right) in serving the tea.

Owner Kelly Guarano, a Warner Mansion volunteer, started her business after discovering her own food allergy. Her new diet came as a shock: gluten-free muffins, for example, cost “two for $10, and tasted like cardboard.” Figuring she could do better herself, Guarano started converting her recipes—and, later, selling the results at the Farmington Farmers Market. “My belief is that just because you have an allergy, you don’t have to limit yourself in enjoying your food,” she said.


Tea sandwiches by Kelly’s Cucina.

Sunday’s tea fare—sandwiches, scones, lemon bars, chocolate whiskey cupcakes, and fruit tarts—was enjoyed by those without food allergies as well. “I would never have known it was gluten-free if somebody hadn’t pointed it out,” said Kim Smith of Windsor, a first-time attendee.


Warner Mansion volunteer Polly Varhol refills a pot of tea.



Joan McGlincy reenacts First Lady Edith Wilson.

As dessert was served, speaker Joan McGlincy took the stage, dressed in an ankle-length gown for a first-person portrayal of Edith Wilson. The future First Lady’s life began modestly enough. Despite her aristocratic heritage, Edith grew up in crowded rooms above a storefront in rural Virginia, with limited education. Her entry into Washington society came after marrying businessman Norman Galt. For 12 years, she lived as a matron of means, enjoying European excursions and her own electric car.

In March 1915, Edith—now widowed—was invited to tea by White House hostess Helen Bones, cousin of the bereaved Woodrow Wilson. By lucky timing, she met the President. Within months, the two were exchanging passionate love letters. In December, they were married. She was 43. He was 59.

From then on, Edith was Wilson’s constant companion. When he was campaigning for a second term, Edith traveled with him. She sat by his side while he read confidential documents, and attended Oval Office meetings. When America entered World War I, he even taught her his secret wartime code. And she made her influence felt. “She had a list of people that she felt were not supportive of the President, and she was not opposed to easing them out of positions of power,” McGlincy remarked.


Wilson was a pacifist, and one of his postwar goals was joining the League of Nations. But the Senate rejected his proposal, and Wilson was not willing to negotiate. To drum up support, Wilson began a whistle-stop tour across the country. Health problems cut the trip short. On October 2, 1919, Edith heard a thud from the White House bathroom. Wilson had suffered a massive stroke.

Edith, convinced that her husband’s recovery hinged on retaining the presidency, determined to continue the administration. Downplaying Wilson’s condition, she screened the President’s visitors and filtered matters of state for his attention. She even called for the resignation of a cabinet member who conducted meetings in the President’s absence.

Edith called her actions “stewardship.” Critics muttered about “petticoat government,” although Edith insisted that she never made a single executive decision. Perhaps she should have. Some historians believe that if the League of Nations proposal had passed—even in amended form, as Edith advocated—World War II might have been avoided.


Tea guest Eleanor Blum reads Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point plan for the League of Nations.


After Wilson died in 1924, Edith spent the remaining 37 years of her life embellishing his reputation: choosing a writer for his biography, penning her memoir, and overseeing the movie Wilson. Some historians take issue with her version of events. McGlincy agreed: “Edith saw everything about Woodrow, in my opinion, through rose-colored glasses.”

Despite her controversial legacy, Edith stands out at a time when women had barely won the right to vote. “She was a strong lady to run the White House, especially in that era,” said tea guest Eleanor Blum of Farmington Hills. “Maybe we need one now.”

Jolly Good: Fred Warner’s 150th birthday celebrated in style across the pond

It’s not often that a Farmingtonian gets birthday parties on two continents. But this month, one of Farmington’s former residents achieved just that: Fred M. Warner, Michigan’s first foreign-born governor, who turned 150 on July 21.

Granted, the birthday boy’s been dead for 92 years. But that didn’t stop local-history fans from honoring him with the ultimate birthday present: a “friendship-cities” agreement between Warner’s hometown of Farmington and birthplace of Hickling in Nottinghamshire, England.

The resolution was approved unanimously by Farmington City Council on Monday, July 20, the eve of Fred’s sesquicentennial birthday.


Although a Farmington resident practically all his life, Fred was not a Michigan native. Nor was he originally a Warner. The man who would become arguably Farmington’s most famous early-20th-century citizen was born Fred Maltby in a tiny farming community in east-central England.

hickling painting

As this painting of Hickling Village shows, the town–home to fewer than 500 people–retains its old-fashioned charm.

Cobblestones and The Malt House, two houses in Hickling both shops at one time, selling beer, bread and the post office. Now beautiful homes.

“Cobblestones” and “The Malt House” were both shops at one time, selling beer and bread and also serving as the Hickling post office. Now, they are private residences. Photo by Maggy Jordan.

Hickling's famous pub, The Plough, which serves real ale and good pub food

Hickling’s pub, The Plough, serves real ale and good pub food. Photo by Maggy Jordan.

When Fred was still a baby, his parents—William and Frances—moved the family to Livonia, Michigan. Shortly after, Frances became ill and died, and Fred and his two older sisters were adopted into local families. Fred was taken in by P.D. and Rhoda Warner of Farmington, who—according to Rhoda’s reminiscences—agreed to keep him if he didn’t cry too much.

Apparently, Fred was well-behaved, although he was so scrawny that Rhoda joked he’d never amount to much. But P.D. declared, “If he lives to be 40, he’ll be six feet tall, 200 pounds, and governor of Michigan.” His prediction would turn out correct. Fred, following in the footsteps of his adoptive father, went into business and then into politics, serving as village president, state senator, and finally governor (1905-1911).

Fred’s descendants kept in touch with Hickling for several generations. Granddaughter Susan Klingbiel visited in 1985 and planted a flowering cherry tree in the local churchyard. At the Gov. Warner Mansion, Farmington’s local-history museum, boxes of letters with English postmarks bear evidence of her correspondence.


Renewed contact came this May in the form of an email—via the Farmington DDA website—from Carol Beadle, a member of Hickling’s newly formed history group. Beadle was searching for information to support an upcoming 150th birthday celebration for Fred Warner, the only Hickling resident to ever become famous.


Volunteers at the Warner Mansion were quick to respond. Local-history books and articles, CDs of historic photos, and pictures from recent Mansion events were shipped to England for use in creating an exhibit, along with party decorations and souvenirs like Mansion T-shirts and coasters.

The Warnerettes Parasol Drill Team sent instructions for their routines, plus one of their “Votes for Women” sashes, complete with its red ribbon rosette and replica Warner campaign pin. Annika Taylor and Marilyn Lennis—members of the museum’s new outreach committee—even created a video biography especially for the party. (Check it out at

warner birth certificate

Fred Maltby Warner’s birth certificate.

In return, Beadle sent history books and brochures, a copy of Fred’s birth certificate, photos of the town, and copies of the Hickling Standard, where the milestone birthday was front-page news. Another historian, Dorothy Chahal, took it upon herself to write and send a complete history of the town since 2000 B.C.

Hickling’s gifts were displayed as a mini exhibit at “Fred Warner’s 150th Birthday Bash,” a Mansion porch party on July 9.


A mini exhibit at the Mansion’s July porch party, “Fred Warner’s 150th Birthday Bash,” included a copy of the governor’s birth certificate and photos of his birthplace. Photo by Joni Hubred-Golden/Farmington Voice.

And Farmington’s contributions were put to good use at the Hickling celebration on July 20, where a packed audience at the village hall included the present-day Sheriff of Nottingham (of Robin Hood fame)

photo 3(7)

The 21st-century Sheriff of Nottingham appeared in the costume for the event. Photo by Maggy Jordan.

mowbray cake

A special “Mowbray cake,” baked for the event. Hickling is located in Melton Mowbray. Photo by Maggy Jordan.

photo 3(1)

Descendants of Fred Warner’s birth family cut the cake at the party in Hickling. Photo by Maggy Jordan.

Later, the materials sent from Farmington will be displayed there in a new local-history room.

Exhibit in Hickling England

A young resident of Hicking, England, the great-great-grandnephew of Warner’s birth father, takes a photo of the exhibit at the celebration of Fred Maltby Warner’s 150th birthday. Photo by Maggy Jordan.


The exchange sparked ideas of a “friendship-city” arrangement between the two towns, based on their shared history of Fred Warner—and, interestingly, of cheese.

Hickling, a dairy-farming community, is famous for Stilton Blue Cheese.


Hickling’s famous Stilton Blue Cheese. Via Wikimedia.

Coincidentally, cheese-making factories were Fred’s line of business as well.

1779 Warner Dairy truck

Fred Warner owned the Warner Dairy, which at one point included 13 cheese factories. Courtesy of the Farmington Community Library.

The new relationship is less formal than a sister-cities agreement: according to Mayor Bill Galvin, it’s more like a “long-distance pen pal program between two communities.” In the future, the Warner Mansion and the Hickling history group will continue the exchange of cultural materials to benefit history buffs on both sides of the pond.

Chuck Eudy as Fred Warner

“Fred Warner” dropped by Monday’s City Council meeting in the form of Farmington DPW Director Chuck Eudy, a frequent Warner re-enactor, to express his gratitude for the recognition of his two hometowns.

At age 150, what better birthday present could you get?

The Three Faces of Fred

Only one Farmington resident has ever become governor of Michigan: Fred Warner, who served from 1905-1911. As well as top state executive, he was also a bicycle racer, cheese factory founder, reformer, and devoted husband and father.

This July, Fred Warner turns 150. To celebrate, Mansion Musings speaks with the three gentlemen who have stepped into Fred’s shoes as reenactors at Farmington’s Governor Warner Mansion museum.

Brian Golden (left) in the Model T

Brian Golden (left) rides a Model T during the Farmington Founders Festival parade.

BRIAN GOLDEN, director of the nonprofit Pastways, is probably Farmington’s longest-serving history buff. As president of the Farmington Historical Society, Golden has studied Fred Warner through local-history books as well as at the Mansion. For him, portraying Fred is like acting in a play. “I wear a period suit and hat,” he said. “I turn into the governor as soon as I put on the hat.”

In the history world, Golden plays many characters. Sometimes, he appears as Nathan Power, son of Farmington’s founder. At the Pine Grove Historical Museum in Pontiac, he’s Governor Moses Wisner. One year, he played Governor Warner—aka “Dead Fred”—at the Mansion’s Halloween Ghost Night event. Always ready for fun, he found an arm from a mannequin and extended it to shake hands. “I would ask, ‘Can I give you a hand?’ and they would get freaked out,” he recalled.

Golden’s favorite role as Fred is riding alongside the Warnerettes Parasol Drill Team in the Founders Festival parade, doffing his hat to the crowd from the front seat of the Model T.

Gregg Halberstadt plays the Ghost of Gov. Fred Warner as he tells local people about the history of Gov. Fred Warner at the Gov. Warner Mansion on October 14. photo/Nicholas Barry

Gregg Halberstadt plays Fred Warner’s ghost at the Mansion’s Halloween event. Photo by Nicholas Barry/Farmington Press.

GREGG HALBESTADT didn’t have a choice when he was asked to play “Dead Fred” in the Ghost Night’s first year: He was drafted by his wife, Sue, who oversees Mansion activities in her role as Farmington City Clerk. At the time, Halberstadt worked for a local sign company. But he always had a bent for theater, so he was game—even though he wasn’t positive what he was in for. “The only thing I was sure of was that it would be a ‘ghastly’ experience!”

Dressing as Fred, Halberstadt donned a suit, tie, and top hat. But the outfit was outshined by his ghostly makeup, complete with wrinkles and scars. He was in for a shocker when he looked in the mirror. “They had done the face but hadn’t blended it out very much, so I looked like a corpse with human ears!” Despite the getup, Halberstadt focused on the job at hand. “I’ve always found that when dressed in costume, it’s helpful to ‘become’ the part instead of playing it,” he explained. “Even when there was down time between presentations, I tried to maintain the character.” That included speaking in a gravelly voice, as befit someone dead for nearly a century.

Chuck Eudy as Dead Fred

Chuck Eudy as “Dead Fred” during Ghost Night at the Mansion.

CHUCK EUDY, Farmington’s Superintendent of Public Services, was “discovered” at a city council meeting by two Warner Mansion volunteers, who noticed that his mustache looked exactly like Fred’s. A day or so later, he received a telephone call asking if he would like to dress up as Fred for a Warnerettes photo-op. The photo turned into an Uncle Sam-style Warnerettes recruiting poster, complete with the slogan “Governor Warner wants YOU!”

In 2013 and 2014, Eudy was recruited to play “Dead Fred.” Portraying Fred’s commitment to the community was his ultimate goal. But he couldn’t resist some lighthearted ad-libbing. “I tried to be serious about Fred,” he said. “But how can you be serious during the Halloween season?”

He’s got good reason to laugh now. This spring, Eudy’s picture was printed on a giant Warnerettes poster—nearly life-size—and displayed for a month in the Korner Barbers window, at the intersection of Grand River and Farmington. Who knows—residents and business owners might start calling him “Fred”!

We asked our Fred Warner reenactors: What is one thing the Victorians have on us? Golden commented on the slower lifestyle—and fun clothing. Halberstadt longed for the days when technology didn’t interfere with communication. (He must have found his calling—recently, he became a historic presenter at Greenfield Village’s Liberty Craftsworks.) Eudy said, “No cell phones. No TV. Enjoying a lazy afternoon on the front porch with friends, neighbors, and cold iced tea.”

Apparently, newer isn’t necessarily better.

Warner Windows

first united methodist church of farmington today

Farmington’s Methodist church dates from 1922.

The First United Methodist Church of Farmington holds several claims to fame. It is one of the state’s oldest Methodist congregations, formed in 1829, five years after Farmington’s first settlers arrived. Following a fire in 1920, a new worship center was commissioned from Butterfield & Butterfield, a father-daughter firm that included Michigan’s first licensed female architect. And the stained glass windows at the front of the sanctuary were donated by Fred Warner, Farmington’s only Michigan governor and the first to serve three consecutive terms.

In recognition of its heritage, the church has recently been named to the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of U.S. historic sites and structures deemed worthy of preservation.


In 1922, a new church for Farmington was front-page news—especially for the Methodists, who had been holding services in the Baptist church since the 1920 fire. The original 1844 Methodist church, at the southeast corner of Warner and Shiawassee, had been a white frame building.

farmington's original methodist church, completed in 1844

Farmington’s original Methodist church was completed in 1844. Courtesy of the Farmington Community Library.

In contrast, the new red-brick, Neo-Gothic structure featured a low roof, lofty tower, and curving stained glass windows. Inside, the sanctuary was furnished with pews and altar furniture of silver-gray.


The 1922 Methodist church was designed by architects Wells and Emily Butterfield, both members of the congregation. Courtesy of the Farmington Community Library.

The Butterfield architects, who designed the church, were both members of the community—and its Methodist congregation. Wells Butterfield was Farmington’s first mayor. Emily was an artist and writer. Farmington was evidently proud of their work, with the Enterprise hailing it as “a structure of ecclesiastical beauty.”


It’s likely that the Warner family followed the construction plans with interest. Fred Warner (governor from 1905-1911) and his wife, Martha, both attended the church and were married there in 1888.


Members of the Methodist congregation tread a “boardwalk” on their way to worship at their original 1844 church. Courtesy of the Farmington Community Library.

The Warners were active church volunteers. Martha served as vice president of the Ladies Aid Society. Fred, a trustee, served on the building committee for the new church. But while church membership records list Martha as joining in March 1895, Fred’s name carries an interesting comment: “Not a member.”

The same was noted of his father, P. Dean, although the elder Warner had been a trustee as well as a Sunday school teacher. Members of the church’s historical committee speculate that the Warner men, both politicians, turned down official membership to distance themselves from the Methodists’ progressive and sometimes-controversial social policies around 1900.


But Fred was a member in all but name. And, as a well-to-do businessman, he possessed the means to make a contribution toward the new church.

Fred and Martha’s gift remains as visible today as it was in 1922: four colorful stained-glass panels facing Grand River, dedicated in memory of P. Dean and Rhoda Warner (Fred’s parents), Samuel and Susan Davis (Martha’s parents), and Farmington’s early pioneers.

stained glass windows donated by fred and martha warner

The stained glass panel at the front of Farmington’s current Methodist church was donated by Fred and Martha Warner in memory of their parents and the town’s early pioneers.

The windows were painted by French artist Francois Grenier and depict “Pioneers of Christendom”: St. John the Baptist, St. Paul, Bible translator John Wycliff, and Methodism founder John Wesley. According to the Enterprise, it was “one of the most beautiful church windows in the state.”


Clouds, rain, and chilly wind on dedication day—Sunday, March 19, 1922—didn’t dampen the spirits of attendees, who turned out enthusiastically to welcome the community’s new addition. Ceremonies opened with Holy Communion, followed by several services. Detroit Bishop Theodore Henderson conducted the dedication. As the first act of worship, the choir processed down the aisle, singing a hymn.

Festivities continued throughout the week, including a ladies’ social hour, a children’s party, a lecture on “Songs and Stories of Familiar Birds,” and a Ladies Aid Society banquet. Young People’s Night drew students from Farmington, Redford, and Northville for music by Albion College’s Alpha Tau Omega orchestra.

Even then, the buzz wasn’t over. On March 31, a local-news note read: “Afternoon Tea will be served at the home of Mrs. Howard Warner [Fred’s daughter-in-law] on Wednesday from 3 to 5 o’clock. A silver offering will be taken in behalf of the new Methodist church.”


At 10 a.m. this Sunday, May 31, the church will unveil a plaque marking its National Register designation.


A plaque on the west side of Farmington’s Methodist church denotes its National Register of Historic Places designation.

Ninety-three years elapsed between Farmington’s first Methodists and the dedication of the 1922 church. Fittingly, its rededication as a historic landmark takes place another 93 years later.

Reenacting Farmington’s Suffragettes: Sheila Sigro and the Warnerettes Parasol Drill Team

Warnerettes Sheila Sigro (left) with Annika Taylor at the 2013 Founders Festival parade

Sheila Sigro (left), captain of the Warnerettes Parasol Drill Team, with Annika Taylor at the 2013 Farmington Founders Festival Parade.

During the day, Sheila Sigro works as an esthetician at Alandre Salon & Day Spa in Northville. But on Monday evenings, May through July, she picks up a whistle and a black umbrella to lead Farmington’s “Warnerettes” Parasol Drill Team in campaigning for a governor who’s been dead for nearly a century.

If you’ve watched a recent Founders Festival parade, you’ve probably seen the Warnerettes in action, dressed as turn-of-the-century suffragettes and performing precision parasol routines to promote local history. Their namesake is Fred Warner, a Farmingtonian who served three terms as Michigan governor (1905–1911).

Mansion Musings speaks with Sigro about her role in the Warnerettes.

The Warnerettes marching in the Founders Festival parade

How did you first get involved with the group?

The Warnerettes Parasol Drill Team was founded in 2009 by Sharon Bernath, a volunteer at the Governor Warner Mansion museum. Sharon is a longtime friend of my mother, and remembered I had been a majorette at Farmington High. Since her vision was based on the Fred Hill Briefcase Drill Team of Plymouth, she thought my experience would be a good addition.

Tell a little about how you created the parasol routines.

I thought about the umbrellas Sharon had in mind for us to use and how they could be spun, similar to rifle twirling. I remembered that, as a majorette, we had a roster of “struts” that we would break into when the band played certain tunes. Whistle signals seemed the way to go once I figured out the parasol struts.

Please comment on Governor Fred Warner’s role in the suffrage movement, and why the Warnerettes are “campaigning” for him.

The suffragette theme evolved after our first year, when I stumbled upon a rerun of Mary Poppins and the song “Sister Suffragette.” Sharon researched Governor Warner’s role in the suffrage movement and saw that he was a supporter (thank goodness!). Watching the historical drama Iron-Jawed Angels solidified the platform for me.


Our “Sister Suffragette” routine has become a crowd favorite, along with our call-and-response chant “Freddie Warner is our guy—Votes for women not denied,” based off the marching chant in Private Benjamin.

Why do you feel it is important to keep this aspect of history in the public eye?

I firmly believe that too many of our young women have no idea what our great-grandmothers had to endure in order to achieve the right to vote. Women suffered physical assault, public humiliation, unlawful imprisonment, and outright terrorism. It took decades to finally ratify the 19th amendment. This struggle is not taught in our schools; today, women take the right to vote for granted. We are the largest voting block, and our voice matters. Girls need to be reminded of this history.

How has the group expanded over the years?

We have participated in the Northville Victorian parade since 2010. Last December, Farmington held its inaugural lighted holiday parade, and we decorated our parasols with glowsticks to take part. We’ve also expanded to include a Model T with Governor Warner and First Lady re-enactors. Our delegation always seems to make a splash!

Any memorable moments from parades?

Our first parade was a very windy day. I was afraid our umbrellas would blow through and break, so we could only do the drills that kept them closed. Three years ago was extremely hot: when we got back to the air-conditioned Mansion, we literally stripped off our skirts and stood in front of the open refrigerator!

The Warnerettes pose with founder Sharon Bernath (at left, with drum) at the Gov. Warner Mansion in 2014

What does it take to put together a Warnerettes outfit?

Our uniform is fairly simple: long black skirt, long-sleeve white blouse, tie, and straw boater hat. In the summer, we try not to wear too much under the skirts. In the winter, we layer up with long black coats or capes, although our hands still get pretty cold. I’m using hand warmers next December!

Who can join?

The Warnerettes is open to all women, high-school-age and up. No experience is necessary: all you need to know is how to open/close an umbrella, march to a beat, and count to eight. And it’s not a huge commitment. We only practice once a week, May through July. To join, call (248) 474-3262.