December 18, 2003


New idea to save Grinnell Mill

Ideas to save the historic Grinnell Mill are never wanting, and the most recent meeting on the mill generated several new ones.

What may have been the most promising idea came from the local resident who has probably spent the most time and energy trying to help preserve the structure, which Miami Township Fire-Rescue has declared a fire hazard.

At the meeting Dec. 2, Jim Hammond proposed that Antioch University, which owns the mill, transfer control of the building to a nonprofit corporation made up of one Antioch representative and two community members. The three trustees would be responsible for making decisions about the restoration of and future use of the mill, as well as managing the building, if it could become a self-sustaining operation.

The 17 community members who attended the meeting at the Glen Helen Building responded favorably to Hammond’s suggestion. Glen Helen Ecology Institute director Bob Whyte told Hammond that his “idea is extremely viable.”

After the meeting, Whyte said that the plan was a good idea and that it was realistic. Whyte also said that he could not comment on university officials’ position on Hammond’s plan before talking to them.

Glenn Watts, an Antioch University vice chancellor, said this week that the idea of a corporation “has merit.” Watts also said that Antioch is still contemplating a few other ideas officials are not ready to talk about yet and that no action has been taken toward forming a corporation.

Though establishing a corporation could be a positive step, it does not address the funding necessary to restore the 200-year-old mill and its future use.

Hammond, who for two years unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a lease for the mill with Antioch, said this week that stabilizing the outside of the structure would not be difficult.

“ We can come up with funding to save the building and restore the roof, siding, windows and doors and get it uncondemned,” he said, indicating personal funds could be used to cover the estimated $25,000 cost of stabilizing the outside of the building. He said that the inside of the mill would be a far more expensive job and would include installing utilities, floors, a septic system and a well. That work could approach the $200,000 mark, he said.

But Hammond still retained some skepticism about how the university would respond to the plan. “I’m not going to go too much further until I hear from Antioch,” he said. “It’s kind of a long shot really.”

But even without a specific commitment from Antioch, meeting participants brainstormed what they had come to talk about: an exhaustive list of the possible uses for the mill. Residents suggested a host of options, from doing nothing to restoring Grinnell Mill as a functioning mill with a museum and cultural center display.

Though the costs and logistics of restoring the mill to a functioning state, which could include a water wheel and grindstones, could be prohibitive, meeting participants said that retaining as much of the mill’s original composition would provide a cultural and historical resource that visitors would likely pay to visit and study. The mill could generate its own funds by renting several rooms to visitors who wish to stay and study the structure, some said.

Hammond’s suggestion involved restoring and renting the second floor.

The mill’s location in Glen Helen could make a convincing appeal for funding from various organizations, participants said. The mill is an educational, historic and cultural resource that could serve a wide variety of interests if preserved, they said.

“ We have to get a clear vision of what we want, then get a group and make it happen,” Lynn McCown advised.

“ If Antioch would let go and turn its control over then we could start to restore it,” Hammond said at the meeting.

Whyte said that Antioch wants the mill to be self-sustaining and that any future use could not involve selling the land it sits on.

He said that he did not think Antioch would object to the plan, once the proposed trustees received nonprofit status and residents were occupying the building.

“ We owe Jim a lot of thanks, he’s really done us a tremendous service,” Whyte said.

— Lauren Heaton