If you grew up in Freedom, ME you’ve probably already toured the Freedom Mill, in high school, under the cover of darkness, at risk to life and limb. At its height during the 19th century, the mill had served as an economic engine for the area, using the water power at Freedom Falls to process grain and manufacture wooden dowels. By the 21st century, the mill was filled with piles of rotting sawdust, and teenagers who had nothing better to do and a misplaced trust in the floor framing. In 2011, Tony and Sally Grassi bought the property, seeing in the detritus an opportunity to preserve an historic landmark while stimulating the local economy.
The mill’s place in Maine’s history made this restoration especially meaningful for the crew at PTF. Our work places us within the long history of New England building craft, which includes its water-powered mills and early industry. PTF’s Northern Contingent had the pleasure of touring the nearly finished mill last week. A restaurant and an independent school are moving in. What the renovated mill now lacks in mischief and sheer danger, it makes up for by interpreting the industrial history of Maine, and creating a space for people to incorporate that history into their daily lives. We recommend heading up and taking a tour, before classes begin.
Repairing the frame posed a number of unique challenges. The undercarriage needed full replacement, and because the mill was water-powered, it was built more than sixteen feet above a rushing stream. The crew rebuilt the undercarriage exactly as it was originally framed, threading 12″ x 16″ x 22′ joists through the building and over a complicated network of staging.
In addition to the exposed wall framing and the antique mill-works hanging from the ceiling, view hatches throughout the building allow visitors to discover how the building functioned as an industrial space. In the main space, a hatch allows visitors to get a close look at an old mill wheel (see first photo, above). In the main entrance, the dowel drying racks were preserved, and a viewing window shows the series of radiator pipes over which they were built.
A small school is moving into one of the upper floors of the mill, the exposed framing surrounding the classroom and steeping students in their heritage. It is on these upper levels where the brace repairs are best observed, right at eye level.
The crew also dismantled, repaired and rebuilt an original ell addition. The roof framing is visible as students climb the stairs to their classroom, and in the commercial kitchen.
Over lunch, we saw but a small slice of the work that has been completed at Freedom Mill. The Grassi’s website offers a lot more information on the history, the restoration, and opportunities to visit. It stands out among restoration-project-websites in its simple design and readability.