Project: Rehabilitation and preservation of building with relationship to local and state history located on the Miami & Erie Canal in St. Marys, Ohio.
Location: St. Marys, Ohio
Intended Use: Museum/Educational Facility/Event Center
Potential Funding Sources: City of St. Marys; CDBG Revolving Loan Funds; Private Donations
According to Ohio History Central, the Miami & Erie Canal was one of the most important canals during the mid-nineteenth century. The canal was constructed between 1837 – 1845 and was built through the municipal corporation of St. Marys, which at the time was a small settlement founded at this strategic location for commerce and trade. The construction of the canal sparked rapid industrial growth in St. Marys. The first industry in the town was the Reservoir Mill which was built on the bank of the canal, taking advantage of the cheap power made available by the fall in elevation of the canal through town and by the liberal terms of an agreement with the State of Ohio to use surplus water from the canal.
The Reservoir Mill was established for milling flour in 1847, just after completion of the canal. Robert B. Gordon, Sr., who would later become a Representative to the Ohio Legislature from Auglaize County, first operated and shortly thereafter owned the mill. After his death his son, the Honorable Robert B. Gordon, Jr., a U.S. Representative from Ohio, took over the business and established the firm of The Gordon, Hauss, Folk, Co. At this time, the mill was also known as the “City Mills” and a historic photo (ca. 1917) shows the signage prominently displaying both of these names on the front of the building. The Gordon, Hauss, Folk, Co. manufactured “Purity” and “Pride of St. Marys” flour which was sold extensively in western Ohio.
The mill operated until 1972. Almost all of the mill equipment has long been removed from the site. Since the mill closed, the building has been used mainly for storage and has fallen into disrepair. The building is still privately owned; however, the CIC of St. Marys (the City’s Community Improvement Corporation) currently has an option to purchase the building. Before the proposed rehabilitation project begins, the City of St. Marys will acquire the building.
The goal of the proposed project is to save a building with historic value and repurpose it as a museum and educational facility that is located in an attractive environment. The facility can also be used as an event center available for rent, which would meet a strong need in this area. These goals will be achieved by removing later additions to the building and restoring the main original central structure, which is approximately a 40’ X 60’ building. The building owner recently permitted an experienced restorer of large timber structures to assess the condition of the building and its potential for restoration. According to the team’s initial assessment, the foundation of the building is solid and the main central structure can be restored. The team pointed out significant unique features of the building that should be preserved, such as several chamfered posts on the interior of the original building and excessively large beams cut from large hardwood trees unique to this part of the country. However, there are some roof leaks that are beginning to cause damage to some of the wood inside the building, and the grain elevator, a later addition, is showing obvious signs of shifting. This damage is hastening the need for repairs and rehabilitation of the building to avoid further deterioration.
The Gordon, Hauss, Folk, Co. mill is one of a very few original mills existing today on the Miami & Erie Canal. Most have been demolished. The goal of this project is to preserve part of our state’s history of industry by restoring the original structure of one of the first built and one of the last remaining mills on the canal, and to use the building and canal to inform and educate future generations of Ohioans about the importance of transportation and industry to our state’s growth and prosperity.
The City of St. Marys has proven its commitment to the preservation of the history of the Miami & Erie Canal over the years. The City invested approximately $250,000 in the restoration of Lock 13 in downtown St. Marys, a lock which had previously been covered over by a building. The City helped fund and construct a replica canal boat, the Belle of St. Marys, located on the canal in Memorial Park, and funded improvements to the towpath trail. Those projects cost the City a total of approximately $145,000. Improvements to the High Street Park along the canal, including the construction of a shelter house in the amount of approximately $240,000, were funded and completed by the City, and the City will continue improvements to that park which will enhance the aesthetic appeal, walkability, and accessibility of the park and canal towpath.
Therefore, the City of St. Marys’ total investment to date in the preservation of the history of the Miami & Erie Canal is approximately $635,000. The City continues to fund maintenance costs for these improvements as well.
The City of St. Marys also recently contributed $4,000 as its share of the local match for a Local Government Innovation Grant. This grant is being used to develop a tourism plan for the Miami & Erie Canal Corridor from Fort Loramie to Delphos. The local match is being funded by a total of five partner communities along the corridor.
The City is currently seeking permission from the Ohio Development Services Agency to use excess funds in the City’s CDBG Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) to complete Phase I of the project. Phase I would include removal of modern additions, and repair/replacement of siding, windows, and the roof. These proposed improvements would preserve and protect the building from further exposure to moisture and would improve the integrity of the building. If Phase I is not completed in the near future, the building will soon no longer be salvageable.
The structure and foundation have been evaluated by a structural engineer, by a mason, and by a timber-frame renovation expert. The original structure (40’ X 60’ central building) and foundation have been determined to be solid and sufficient to support the work proposed.
The funds being proposed for Phase I are from a federal grant program. It is estimated that $650,000 will cover the cost of Phase I and will leave over $500,000 available for future loans. If more funds are needed for business loans, additional grant money can be requested from the State.
Use of the excess RLF funds is restricted by federal guidelines. It may only be used for limited purposes. Removal of slum and blight meets the criteria for use of the funds.
The CIC of St. Marys commissioned a local engineer/artist to prepare renderings to illustrate the mill rehabilitation project upon completion.