Dow Gardens, a gift to Michigan from the Dow family

June 21, 2023

Dow Gardens, a gift to Michigan from the Dow family

MI Travelogue is a presentation of Preferred Credit Union, www.preferredcu.org, located locally at 266 N. Jebavy Dr., Ludington.

Story and Photos by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

MIDLAND — For almost seven decades, Dow Chemical was a prominent part of Mason County, providing jobs to hundreds of people in its plant located in Ludington’s Fourth Ward. The plant was operated by Dow from 1942 until it was purchased by Occidental Chemical Company (Oxy) in 2009.

The Dow Chemical Company was founded in 1896 by Herbert H. Dow in Midland. The company continues to operate there and the family’s legacy continues through the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, which owns and operates Dow Gardens, among many other philanthropical endeavors. 

Dow Gardens is a 110-acre botanical garden located a few blocks from downtown Midland. It was the estate of Herbert and Grace Dow. The Dow home, The Pines, still stands on the grounds and is a registered National Historic Landmark. It was the first and only home of Herbert and Grace Dow.

Herbert Dow

We recently visited the gardens for Father’s Day. Midland is a two-hour drive from Mason County, straight east on US 10. 

The gardens has a diverse selection of botanical features from wooded areas, orchards, flower gardens, water features, herb garden and conservatory. The canopy walk provides a unique perspective high in the trees of the Whiting Forest. 

A children’s garden offers a variety of activities for kids, including a splash pad. 

Hidden walkways are found near the 1899 Pines house, providing secret paths to more gardens. 

Herbert Henry Dow (1866-1930) was born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, the oldest child of Americans Joseph Henry and Sarah (Bunnell) Dow, who were from Derby, Conn. Joseph was an inventor and mechanical engineer. The family returned to Connecticut when Herbert was 6-weeks-old. They moved again in 1878 to Cleveland where Joseph took a job with Derby Shovel Manufacturing Co. 

The Pines, home of the Dow family.

After graduating from high school in 1884, Herbert Dow enrolled in the Case School of Applied Science (now known as Case Western Reserve University) where he researched the chemical composition of brines in Ohio and nearby areas. He discovered brine samples from Canton, Ohio and Midland, Michigan were very rich in bromine, a component that, at the time, was used widely in medicines and in the photography industry. 

In 1889, received a patent after inventing a cost-effective and streamlined process for bromine extraction. He formed a company but went bankrupt within a year. In 1890, the Midland Chemical Company was started, with financial backing from investors. In 1891, Dow invented the Dow process, a method of bromine extraction using electrolysis to oxidize bromide to bromine. 

Dow’s financial backers did not approve of his continued research of electrolysis to yield other chemicals and fired him from the Midland Chemical Company. He continued his research, developing a process to extract chlorine and caustic soda from sodium chloride (a process that would greatly benefit Mason County by the mid-20th century). 

In 1895, Dow moved his family to Massillon, Ohio and started the Dow Process Company. He returned to Midland the next year and started the Dow Chemical Company. Within three years the company purchased the Midland Chemical Company. 

On Nov. 16, 1892, Dow married Grace Anna Ball, a teacher, in Midland. Grace and Herbert had seven children between 1894 and 1908. 

In 1899, Herbert Dow started Dow Gardens as a personal hobby, on the grounds of his estate. Herbert died in 1930 at the age of 64. In 1936, Grace established the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, which has a charter to improve the educational, religious, economic, and cultural lives of the people of the City of Midland and the State of Michigan. Dow Gardens is a part of the foundation and continues to be operated by it. 

 

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