Fortunately in October 2011, when work began to really happen on the mill, we did not have Superstorm Sandy to contend with!
Our initial challenge was dealing with the mess the flood of 1986 had left in the lowest storey of the mill, which is a sort of ‘walk-out’ basement. The back, eastern end of the building was an ‘extension’ built over the water wheel; originally, water travelled from the huge pond at some distance through a wooden trestle, and then dropped some 30 feet to the wheel below.
In the 1930’s, the wheel was replaced with a massive diesel engine, which was encased in a enormous amount of cement and the eastern end of the basement continued to power the mill until they stopped operations in 1968. People still love coming to see this Russell and Hornby engine, and we looked at various ways to remove it — but as this looks to be an impossible task, barring taking it out piece by piece, we hope one day to have it restored.
The engine takes up a good portion of the north east side of the basement, and perhaps thanks to all the concrete surrounding it, the middle north stone wall remained intact for some portions. The south stone wall was re-pointed and restored in the 1970’s, so it remained in fairly good shape. The street-facing, eastern stone wall, however, had not faired well over the 180 years since it was built. Underneath the front ‘porch’ the stone wall had crumbled away to a significant extent — the local kids would dive through the hole and wiggle through to party in the ruins.
But the big mess was the back extension. In 1986 (according to local legend), there was terrible rain and local flooding. Eventually the berm surrounding the huge mill pond at the back of the property burst, and the resulting torrent ripped out much of the back foundation of the mill, and left the extension literally hanging. With almost no foundations to hold it up, the weight of the two storeys above was being held mainly by the massive timber beams that ran the entire length of the building above. It was a testament to the original builders and engineers, but an incredible hazard to those of us who wanted to deal with mess — twenty-five years later.
There is a lot of metaphor in this project — a fact which has been screaming home to me today as I began to deal with blowing the back, unsupported structure off the main body of the mill.
… more text to follow….
To begin at the beginning, let me share with you the letter I just wrote to the AGORA-L newslink provided by Heritage Canada.
Re: Restoration/Repurposing of the Purdy Mill in Castleton, Ontario
My husband and I have recently relocated from Western Canada and purchased 20 acres in Castleton, Ontario, largely because of the potential in the 6000+ square foot, 180 year-old grist mill on the property. Our professional experience is in the performing arts, so this project is one we are only able to tackle with some paid help! We are currently hastening to restore the foundations of the mill, which were severely compromised during a flood in 1986. We continue to be amazed by the structural integrity of the wooden building, which remains upright and reasonably square in spite of the foundation issues, as well as the tremendous weight of the iron mill equipment inside.
We are open and eager for input from professionals and enthusiasts over the restoration of the building, but in particular, we are at a loss over what to do with the equipment. While we will keep some pieces as part of the heritage of the building, we are looking for homes for most of it, including an enormous 1935 Ruston and Hornsby Diesel Engine (rated 38hp/300rpm), which replaced the water from Piper Creek as a means of turning the wheels in the mid-1930’s. Any revenue we could generate from the sales would be of great help, but we would prefer to give the equipment to somewhere it will be appreciated than sell it as scrap metal.
We are currently financing the project solely at our own expense. The first phase of our plan is to shore up the foundations and rafters sufficiently to mount solar panels on the south-facing roof. We have an offer to connect from Hydro One, and are waiting for the final contract from the OPA under the Micro-Fit program. We think that generating energy from yet another source is a fitting next chapter for the story of the building. It will also serve the practical purpose of providing an ongoing source of revenue in order to continue to develop the space, which we hope will be a resource for the entire community, and in particular for performers and visual artists.
Looking forward to any input you may have!