June 19, 2003


Historic Grinnell Mill may be razed

After declaring the Grinnell Mill a dangerous fire hazard, Miami Township Fire-Rescue has given Antioch University less than three months to decide what to do with the historic structure, which has stood in the South Glen along the Little Miami River since before Antioch College existed.

On Wednesday, June 4, the Miami Township fire department posted signs at the Grinnell Mill forbidding trespassers to enter the “hazardous” and “dilapidated” structure. Though the abandoned all-wood mill has been a known fire risk for at least a decade, Fire Chief Colin Altman gave Antioch 90 days to produce a plan to rehabilitate the building or demolish it. Failure to comply will result in a fine to the university of up to $1,000 per day.

“We will not sustain a $1,000 a day fine, we cannot financially endure that,” Antioch University Vice-Chancellor Glen Watts said last week. “The question then becomes, what can be done in 90 days?”

Antioch does not have the money to invest in the mill, Watts said. “If we had that kind of money, we would put it in our academic buildings,” Watts said. “Unless someone steps forward in the next few months, our only option will be to raze the building.”

Though several private individuals have offered to restore the building, none has successfully negotiated a contract with the university.

Yellow Springs native Jim Hammond, owner of the locally founded Hammond W.A. Drierite Company and an expert in restoring old airplanes, negotiated an agreement with Antioch for over a year and a half, but it fell through this spring. In addition, Charles Chambers, a Dayton architect who specializes in restoring historic structures, resubmitted a proposal from 1996 to fix up the mill.

“If the university were really serious about doing something about the mill, then something would have been done,” Chambers said in an interview last week.

According to university officials, Hammond’s proposal was their best hope for a viable solution. He could finance the project independently at an estimated cost of $200,000. He is local and has a history of volunteering with the Glen — last year he spent several months repairing the wooden siding on the Glen’s Covered Bridge and repainting it with the help of high school volunteers.

Hammond said that he was also willing to lease the property rather than purchase it and abide by Antioch’s stipulations that the mill be returned to its original condition. He had also secured permits with the Greene County health department and building inspectors.

With the cost of reconstruction, liability insurance, taxes, rent and maintenance, Hammond had no illusions of recovering his expenses in the project. “I was never really interested in recouping my costs, I was just looking for an excuse to save a historic building,” he said. “I figured it was something worth while.”

In its current state, the mill has no monetary value, and it poses a liability threat from the weekly intruders who could fall through the rotting floors or get caught in a fire, Altman said.

University officials knew the benefits they stood to gain with Hammond. “We thought Mr. Hammond was our best chance to get this building fixed,” Watts said.

But according to Hammond, the lease got too complicated, and verbal agreements were never the same in writing.

“Basically I got tired of wasting my time and money when it seemed like we weren’t getting anywhere,” he said. “They want so much control, but if they’re interested in saving the structure, they’re going to have to let it go.”

But Watts said that Antioch wanted to include safeguards in the lease to protect the university’s investment which includes the building and the land.

“The land investment ties up a resource that has value,” Watts said. “The Glen Helen board is in a position where there should be some reasonable return in this investment.”

Bob Whyte, executive director of the Glen Helen Ecology Institute, said that the institute also had some reservations about the effect potential development along the Glen’s borders could have had on the management of the nature preserve. Whyte also said that the Glen and the university would be contributing resources other than money toward the project.

“Costs come in many different forms, and money is only part of the story,” Whyte said. “If it’s not going to be in the long-term best interest of the university, we have to consider that.”

The university is still eager to consider a new proposal from Hammond or from anyone else who is interested in preserving the mill, Watts said.

Even if the structure cannot be saved, its 11 1/2 inch white oak timber posts and original milling equipment should be taken apart and used or sold, Hammond said. The Roman numerals etched into the joints are part of a rare construction method that would allow the building to be taken down and reassembled in another location exactly as it stands now, he said.

The mill, originally built in 1812 as the Moody brothers’ gristmill, is part of the Grinnell Mill Historic District, which also includes a dam, the millrace, the Grinnell home, a family graveyard and the miller’s house. The mill was rebuilt after a fire that occurred either around 1821 or 1832, and later served as both a sawmill and limestone processor. It is the last of five mills between Yellow Springs and the Clifton Mill that still stands as a reminder of 19th century milling culture in America.

This is not the first historic, or significant, building under Antioch’s care to come under a state of disrepair. The Glen’s Red Barn, which had been abandoned, burned down last July and G. Stanley Hall Hall has been in a dilapidated state for at least a decade.

At least one of the mill’s neighbors, Dan Rudolf, believes the building invites illegal activity and creates an unsafe environment for families in the area.

“I approached Antioch seven years ago about fixing it, and they didn’t respond, so I’m pushing now that they do something or tear it down,” Rudolf said. “It’s a nuisance, it’s unsafe, and if some kid falls through the floor, they’re going to get hurt.”

Hammond said he has reservations about restarting negotiations with Antioch, but he may consider it if the lease were significantly simplified.

“Bill Hooper [member of Antioch’s board of trustees] said they built Antioch on a handshake, and I thought great, that’s the way I like it,” Hammond said. “But it’s actually going to require some trust on Antioch’s part.”

Watts said that Antioch’s “primary concern” is the “financial health and viability of the college and the Glen.”

“We would like to see the mill preserved, but we’re not in the position to invest the resources to do it,” he said.

—Lauren Heaton