Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Miller's Tale

One of the loveliest things about writing stuff, is that folks occasionally suggest places and people to me. And those people (and their places) make me welcome, and share their stories. Not long ago, friend Catherine sent me an article from a local paper, about a project in Castleton.

Now if you've been along on the journey for awhile, you know I love this village. I wrote about it here. The pedimented windows of the village occasioned another post, and I recalled my first visit, a talk by preservation giant Peter Stokes, the day we lost him.

I've shared several of Castleton's distinguished buildings. And there are more. Last Friday I met Candace Cox, and had a tour of a very important one - the village mill.

Let's start with some history - then I'll let you in on a project which is making history.

We start way back around 1806 when teen-aged Joseph Abbot Keeler, founder of Colborne (his fine house still stands in the town,) built a mill at Piper's Corners, on the creek of the same name. Although that mill no longer survives, nearby stands the second mill in the village - Purdy's Mill. The Purdy family operated the mill from 1875 to 1948.
J.A.Keeler house, Colborne

The 1878 Belden Atlas of Northumberland and Durham Counties features an image of the 20 acres of property surrounding the mill at Piper's Corners, as the village was once called, attesting to the importance of a mill in creating a community. The mill was powered by the waters of Piper Creek, dammed upstream and directed through a flume and over the wheel, which was housed in an extension at the back of the mill building - no longer standing.

The Belden's image (to which I'll provide a link shortly) also depicts the miller's house, bridges, homes and horse-drawn vehicles in that typically bucolic Belden setting.

the miller's house at Piper Creek
Not too much has changed. Once powered by water, the mill is now powered by the dreams and plans of Candace and Mitchell Cox and their talented offspring Lochlan, Caelan and Cachell, who landed on this spot in 2011 after years of research, from their former home in Edmonton. The former Purdy's Mill has been renamed the Mill at Piper Creek, in deference to the creek which still flows through the cedars on  the hillside property.

Here's the Cramahe township heritage information about the mill.

The family lives in the former miller's house on the hill above the mill. They are all active in the village. Last year Candace, Mitchell (a professional pianist,) daughter Cachell and friends worked with the youth group of Castleton United Church, to show what community spirit looks like. Here's a link to newspaper coverage of their 2016 'up-cycling Castleton' project.

photo by Candace Cox

They decorated the village with donated brightly painted bikes and flowers, and produced a calendar featuring the photos of Erich Bojarzin and other villagers (I am very proud of my copy) to help cover costs. Thanks to Candace for allowing me to post part of one of her photos, a bike posing with my favourite general store.

As you know, I'm a fan of making heritage buildings pay their own way. Not every important heritage building can be a museum. We are amply gifted with house museums and pioneer villages in our province.

We have to find a way to preserve and repurpose the best and most iconic of those which remain. And this mill at Castleton fills the bill.

the mill office
Candace and Mitchell, their not-for-profit board of directors, and supporters are working to raise funds to restore the mill, and give it back its life as the centre of the village - this time as a performance space. They are giving the area hints of what is to come, in a series of fund-raising events at Castleton's historic town hall. Here's a recent newspaper article.
So. I know you're going to want to be in touch. To follow progress. To check on upcoming events to attend. To pledge support - or encourage others - for this wonderful project which will bring new life to this historic village.

Here's the mill Facebook page.
Here's their terrific website - it provides more info on the vision, the history, and Candace and Mitchell's own work. It also shows you that Belden engraving I mentioned above. Do visit. On-line and in person.

You might also want to connect to talk about equipment and furnishings. Candace and Mitchell realize they cannot retain all of the milling equipment. They will rescue and rehabilitate some pieces to add character to the venue. They have also been contacting museums to ascertain interest.

Most intriguingly, they also recognize the potential for repurposing some of the pieces into furnishings for studios, shops, homes. I particularly like Candace's idea for converting the 1890 Silver Creek Centrifugal into a kitchen island. Just takes some imagination.

Like the folks from The Mill at Piper Creek.

the future is bright for the Mill at Piper Creek