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Fire claims historic Cheesebrough Mfg. Co. in Freeport

6:02 PM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
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  • Freeport - photo from Steve Zaagman
  • Freeport - photo from Steve Zaagman

FREEPORT, Mich. (WZZM) -- A massive fire destroyed the historic Cheesebrough factory in Barry County early Thursday morning. Multiple fire departments battled the blaze, which began around 3:30 a.m., but the building was a complete loss. There were no injuries.

Ken Van Tol is the owner of the Cheesebrough factory which made wooden rakes and wooden golf equipment. Ken bought the factory 25 years ago but the factory has been producing products since 1876. It was one of the only factories still making wooden rakes in the world, using some of the original equipment. Van Tol lives next to the factory with his family.

John Van Tol, the owner's son, said that around 3 a.m. he heard popping sounds and saw smoke rising from the building. "It is amazing-- a wood mill full of thousands of dollars worth of equipment is now reduced to a couple of burned handles and some burnt and bubbling flag sticks," says John Van Tol.

"It the most intense thing I have ever seen in my life. We heard the popping noise we opened the door and said 'Oh my gosh, the block is on fire!' That is how intense and big the flames were," says neighbor Kathy Conger.

The fire was strong enough to melt car bumpers across the street and melt siding 100 feet away.

"It is a huge loss to the village of Freeport, it is one of the only wooden rake companies that are left in the world and it is the only one that is doing it in the same manner that they did in the 1800s," explains Lt. Lani Forbes of the Freeport Fire Dept. "We have always enjoyed the history that we have here in the community."

As for the Van Tols, they are unsure what to do as the building was not insured. John Van Tol is optimistic. "If it is broke, we will just build another one and keep working it-- just like what we have always done."

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