October 9, 2003


Milling equipment still remains inside the abandoned Grinnell Mill.


No options left, Antioch vice chancellor says—
Time runs out for Grinnell Mill

Grinnell Mill, which stood on the Little Miami River in the South Glen for 200 years, will likely be dismantled or razed.

Facing an Oct. 6 deadline from Miami Township Fire-Rescue to come up with a plan to rehab or sell the mill, Antioch University was unable to find a way to salvage the historic structure, whose white oak frame hewn by ax from local timber still stands as straight and solid as it always has through the fires, floods and all manner of natural and human disaster the mill has endured since it was built in the early 1800s.

Now there are no options left, Antioch University Vice Chancellor Glenn Watts said on Monday.

Barring a miracle, Watts said that he plans to move expeditiously to advertise to seek groups or individuals that may be interested in dismantling the mill and moving it or salvaging its lumber. The process should take between a month and six weeks, he said.

If there is no response, Grinnell Mill will be razed. “This thing is on a course,” he said.

In June, the Miami Township fire department declared the mill a fire and safety hazard and gave Antioch 90 days to find a way to save the building. The department then gave Antioch an extension until Oct. 6, which the university was unable to take advantage of.

Antioch does not have the funds to restore the building and was trying to reach an agreement with at least one local resident to rehab the mill.

That resident, Jim Hammond, has the interest, skill and financial ability to restore it but was also not able to negotiate a satisfactory lease or purchase deal with Antioch.

The Yellow Springs Historical Society recently considered buying the mill, but the organization’s board decided in mid-September that it was not in a position to manage property.

The Glen Helen Board of Overseers asked to be included in negotiations with Hammond over a year ago, but, according to its president, David Hergesheimer, the board was told by Bob Whyte, the executive director of the Glen Helen Ecology Institute, that “the college would handle it.”

Whyte said that he thinks the college has put forth a good faith effort and that if the mill is a community resource, then the community needed to contribute to the effort to save it.

The Glen Helen Association chose not to get involved in the matter, the association’s vice president, Kathy Reed, said.

Local residents with varying connections to the mill, such as Milt Lord, Richard Hunt, Dan Rudolf and David Huber, all said recently that they wanted to see the mill restored decades ago but have seen little to no progress toward that end. Now they want the issue resolved, they say, even if it means that the mill is destroyed.

The mill has faced adversity since it was first constructed. According to the application making Grinnell Mill and its surrounds an historic district, the mill burned down just after Robert and Andrew Moody built it as a gristmill around 1812.

When it was reconstructed, probably in the 1820s, its builders squared off whole tree trunks and fitted them together for framing, studs, joists and rafters with a pre-Civil War scribe rule layout, cutting Roman numeral marriage marks into the wood where the pieces fit together.

The water-powered Moody mill turned two large grinding stones on the first floor to pulverize wheat into flour for early Yellow Springs residents and travelers on the Xenia-Springfield stage road that ran beside it. Its pulleys, cranks and shafts extended from the basement to the third floor to process materials when Matthew Corry owned the mill in 1862, the year Moncure Conway used it to shelter a band of former slaves he helped bring to Yellow Springs until permanent housing could be found for them.

Frank Grinnell and his family bought the mill that same year, named it Spring Lea Mill and continued to operate it as a grist and limestone mill for another 75 years.

The mill was again damaged during the flood of 1913, after which a Leffel turbine was installed to replace the wheel. When the mill stopped operating for good in 1937, it was abandoned for a decade before Antioch College acquired it as part of Glen Helen.

It held up through several subsequent tenants and remodelling efforts, as well as a red paint job in the 1960s and a good 50 years of vandals who continued as recently as last week to break in and trash the structure.

The mill’s post and beam frame may still be sturdy, but the wood shake roof is leaking, the limestone foundation needs securing and the wooden floorboards and side panels are wearing. As light peeks through cracks and holes in the walls, and termites and raccoons impose their will, the natural elements of the forest begin to reclaim what the mill took from them so long ago that no one alive can remember it.

If they have been listening, they know that they are likely to get their land back in short order.

—Lauren Heaton