Just outside of the southern Michigan town of Milan is a beautiful pale green farmhouse. It is a little more ornate and larger than your average farmhouse. The house was built by Olive Friend on land purchased from her uncle Henry Hack. Olive, who was a native of Milan, built the home for her family with the money from her husband’s business. Henry Friend and Olive created and owned the Electric Sugar Refining Company in New York. It was founded in 1884 and used a unique way of refining raw sugar using electricity.
Henry Friend claimed his secret machine and process could refine sugar for ten percent of the cost of the current method. Investors would go into a room in an old flour mill with a barrel of raw sugar. They were asked to leave so Mr. Friend could process the sugar in secret because he did not want his process to be revealed for competitors to copy. The investors came back into the room and the barrel of raw sugar had been turned into pure refined sugar.
For a short time, investors clamored to purchase stock in the new company and its prices and value soared. In 1888, tragedy struck the company when Henry Friend suddenly died. As experts in sugar refining began questioning the process they became suspicious as to how the process worked. Olive moved back to Milan to live in the house she had built and had promised to reveal the process used for the right price.
Investigators had discovered the whole process and the company was a hoax. The old flour mill in New York was altered with trap doors and a secret room above. When investors stepped out of the room Henry Friend, his wife Olive and some of her relatives helped execute the scheme. The raw sugar was dumped down a hole in the floor and pure refined sugar they purchased elsewhere was poured into the barrel from the secret room above. It gave investors the appearance that he successfully refined the sugar.
Olive and some of her family were arrested in Milan and were extradited and transported to New York to face charges. Olive’s stepfather was convicted and sentenced to 9 months of hard labor in Sing Sing prison. Olive and her mother pled guilty and were sentenced with time served and returned to Milan to live in the house she had built. Olive now a widow remarried and sold the house back to her Uncle Henry Hack.
Today the old farmhouse is known as the Hack House and is a historical museum.
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