March 27, 2003
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State river program considering removing Glen’s Grinnell Mill dam

The stone and concrete dam just upstream of the Grinnell Mill on the Little Miami River may be shoring up the waters of its last spring season in the South Glen.

The Scenic Rivers Program of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is considering removing the dam, which is part of the Grinnell Mill Historic District. The program held a meeting last Thursday, March 20, in the Glen Helen Building, in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, to request public input on its proposal.

Though participants quipped momentarily about how to demolish the dam, they reached a concensus that the dam should be removed.

According to the ODNR, in addition to its current state of disrepair, the dam poses a safety hazard to hikers, canoeists and the Girl Scout troops which own the property on the south side of the river adjacent to the dam.

When the river is flowing, the slick dam poses a drowning threat, Girl Scout camp leader Todd Catchpole said. And when the river is low, the rocky river bed below the dam creates a treacherous hazard if someone were to fall.

Removing the dam makes sense from an ecological perspective as well, several participants said. According to the ODNR, restoring the Little Miami to its naturally free flowing state would improve water quality, increase biodiversity and return the river to its natural habitat. The agency has worked to remove many of the Ohio Scenic River dams that destroy aquatic life and compromise the river’s ecological integrity, ODNR representative Kim Baker said.

Local resident Milt Lord, a member of the Ohio Scenic Rivers advisory council, said he has been trying to have the Grinnell dam removed for 30 years. He said that dams harm rivers by creating stagnant pools of water, which, in turn, breed only aquatic species that can tolerate pollution.

“If we can get them all out, so much the better for the scenic rivers,” he said.

Historians see things a little differently. Removing the Grinnell dam, which was originally built around 1812 to power Andrew and Robert Moody’s gristmill in the early days of the village, would eliminate a cultural relic that represents what this area once was, Ohio Historic Preservation Office representative Justin Cook said.

According to the historic register nomination prepared by Antioch College and the Ohio Historical Society, Grinnell Mill may be one of the oldest existing mills in Ohio. The mill was first constructed about the same time the dam was built, but the current building was reconstructed after a fire around 1832 and then purchased by Frank Grinnell in 1862. It has been a gristmill, a sawmill and a limestone processor for agricultural lime in the early 1900s. The mill operated until 1937 and was acquired by Antioch College as part of Glen Helen a decade later.

The entire district includes Grinnell Mill, its mill race, the dam, the miller’s house, Grinnell House and the Grinnell family cemetery, all contributing toward the memory of a milling heritage of 19th century America. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982.

Don Hutslar, who grew up in Yellow Springs in the 1930s, said he remembers the mill when it was still operating.

“Father took corn there to be cracked when all the millstones were ground down and nobody wanted to sharpen them,” said Hutslar, whose family raised hogs at that time and used the cracked corn to make slop to feed them.

Though many villagers present at the meeting recognized the historical value of the dam, none thought it was financially feasible to save it. Local resident Dave Case, a member of Little Miami, Inc., said he has spent considerable energy in the past trying to generate interest from the Ohio Historical Society and local residents to preserve the mill area.

“There is no interest,” he said. “The mill is one of the major historical features of this area and it’s a shame to see it go . . . But the dam is nowhere close to being usable.”

The entire mill district is badly in need of restoration, he said.

Local resident Bill Hooper, a member of the Antioch University Board of Trustees, said that the college does not have the resources to restore the dam and that it should be removed for safety reasons.

If saving the dam is not an option, based on comments made at the meeting, minimizing the effects of its extraction on the rest of the historic district appears to be the next favorable option. Baker of ODNR said the department was interested in hearing suggestions to mitigate the impact the project could have on the district and the environment.

Preserving the two pieces of concrete on either side of the dam once it’s removed was one option Lord presented. Case suggested using the stones from the dam to fill in the mill race, being sure to document the dam removal to preserve that part of the history of Glen Helen.

Antioch University, which owns the property north of the river adjacent to the dam, gave ODNR permission to remove the dam in 2000, Glen Helen Ecology Institute director Bob Whyte said.

The Girl Scouts also gave their approval. “Our need to keep people from getting hurt outways the historical significance,” Catchpole said.

Before taking action, ODNR will weigh all points of view to balance the importance of the cultural, historical, aesthetic and recreational resources of the area, Baker said. The ODNR will have to secure a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and get the Ohio Historical Society to approve final plans. The ODNR would pay to remove the dam.

If things move smoothly, the removal could take place sometime in the fall of this year, the Ohio Scenic River manager, Bob Grable said.

—Lauren Heaton