Featherbone moves into the garden

Published 9:31 am Friday, March 23, 2012

Historic Featherbone garden shop manager Ken Wisner shows off some of the store’s nautical-themed items.

THREE OAKS — Jim Wisner and his wife, Merlyn, own a large portion of one of southwest Michigan’s most important industrial buildings, the Historic Featherbone Factory.

Located in Three Oaks, the Featherbone Factory was home to Edward K. Warren’s successful featherbone manufacturing business. Made from the quill feathers of a turkey, featherbone was a popular material used in making women’s garments and other products in the 19th century.

Warren’s company put Three Oaks on the map in 1883. In just three years, it grew from a six-man operation to a business employing more than 70 workers and doing around $800,000 in sales.

With the featherbone industry long past its prime, the Historic Featherbone Factory exists today in structure only. It is home to several Three Oaks businesses, including the Wisner’s Historic Featherbone Factory Home and Garden Decor shop.

The history of the building isn’t lost on Jim Wisner.

In the entrance to the store hangs a black and white photo taken of the factory’s workers from the factory’s heyday. There is also a glass case displaying items once made from Warren’s featherbone.

“It really is amazing when you think about what they did here in this building,” Wisner said. “That was one of the big reasons I got into this place, to see if I could bring it back to life. It is a great piece of history here.”

Although not as popular as Warren’s featherbone was in the 19th century, the Wisner’s home and garden decor shop has found its niche.

It is billed as the Midwest’s largest manufacturer of concrete garden stepping stones. It also offers many items for the home and garden, ranging from bronze weather vanes, to gazing balls, to bird feeders, to outdoor furniture.

Since opening the shop 15 years ago, Wisner estimates he has made more than 50,000 stepping stones, which are produced in the factory.

“It’s probably what we are best known for,” Wisner said. “People keep coming back every year for their new garden stones.”

Wisner got the idea for making garden stones many years ago while visiting Shipshewana, Ind., where he saw a stone reading “welcome to my garden.”

‘That got the wheels turning, and I thought ‘hey, maybe we can make those,’” he said. “They got pretty popular for a while. You started seeing them pop up in garden stores all over the place.”

The Wisners purchased the Featherbone Factory more than 30 years ago and have sold off small portions of it since.

He and his wife live in the factory’s old boiler house building, steps away from the home and garden shop.

His son, Ken, is the store manager. His daughter, Sandy Schmidt, runs a beauty salon in the boiler house.

The Historic Featherbone factory is also home to the Acorn Theatre and Journeyman Distillery.