Owner of flooded historic Red Mill in Bridgewater seeks help for repairs: ‘Such an iconic building’

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

BRIDGEWATER — It was Elmer Garrett’s dream to restore an old mill — and that dream came true, said his son Jim Garrett, who remembers going to the Red Mill on South Main Street as a child in the 1940s, and watching his father work on it.

The landmark mill, which was built in 1796, has had many occupants. On Sept. 1, during the remnants of Hurricane Ida, it was hit hard and many parts of it flooded — and some broke. A video posted by the Brookfield Volunteer Fire Company showed water rushing down to the house, with firefighters on a nearby road.

Matt Denning, the mill’s owner, would like to restore it, and is asking the public for help.

He has set up a fundraising campaign that can be found by searching “Help rebuild the old Red Mill Bridgewater” on GoFundMe.com, with a goal of $50,000.

All contributions will go toward the repairs to the mill’s exterior, which includes rebuilding a 60-foot water flume and a 16-foot Fitz water wheel, the Wewaka Brook Pond Dam, and 50 feet of retaining wall “to help prevent a future catastrophe,” Denning said. He added an exact cost won’t be obtained until the project is completed.

Clean up, costs

The days following the flood were spent cleaning up the “horrible mess,” said Denning, whose mother was rescued from the building by neighbors during the storm.

“The very first morning after the storm, my son, whose school was canceled for the day, was down there helping me lift all the debris. There was at least knee deep of just debris,” said Denning, who is a private chef in Manhattan. “It took me five full days of cleanup. It was a lot of elbow grease and sweat and hard work and a large dumpster. My family rolled up their sleeves and our good friends helped, and we all did it together. My wife’s friends cooked this great big lunch and brought it over.”

About $25,000 worth of damages was done to the existing retaining wall and the erosion, Denning said.

“It has to be done with reinforced rebar and a very strong wall because we don’t want this to happen again,” he said.

He said another $25,000 is needed for replacing the 60-foot water flume and steel work.

“All those those buckets were ripped off from the debris,” he said. “Debris was swept down the flume before the flume collapsed, and that debris ripped buckets off the back of the water wheel.”

Additionally, Denning said about 1,000 square feet of wood flooring is needed inside the building because the existing antique floors buckled from the flood. He plans to do all the flooring work on his own.

Red Mill history

The mill was built by Truman Minor in 1796, according to “Landmarks of Bridgewater” by the Bridgewater Historical Society, published in 1958.

The mill was uncovered at first, later a roof and building were erected, the book said. It was later enlarged to a gristmill, cider mill and shingle saw mill.

Other owners of the mill include the Glovers, Hawleys, Giddings, Northrups, Haddens, Howes, Stuerwalks, Rogers and Lalans.

Richard Boleslavsky, a Broadway director, owned the mill in the 1920s, Garrett said. After he died, his wife, Natalie Boleslavsky, along with a man named Alexander Shimkevitch, became owners.

On the back of the property sat a small cottage where a Russian silent film star named Maria Alekseyevna Ouspenskaya lived, Jim Garrett said. She worked with Richard Boleslavsky and stayed at the cottage whenever she was in town.

“The Bolislavskys used the mill as a dance studio for years,” said Jim Garrett, who now lives in Marlborough.

The Garrett family became owners of the mill in 1950.

Mills weren’t new for the Garrett family — they had owned many in Pennsylvania, and Elmer Garrett had worked on his father’s mill while growing up, before going off to college, Jim Garrett said.

Elmer later worked as an electrical engineer with Remington Rand and Sperry.

When Elmer took over ownership of the mill, Jim said he was about 7 years old. Jim is now 81.

“We lived on Freeport, New York, and dad would come up on weekends and in the summer to work on it,” said Garrett. “Dad was an engineer in New York but his dream was to restore an old building.”

“There was always one more project,” Jim Garrett said.

Prior to the Garretts taking over the mill, it had been damaged by an ice storm. “When dad bought it, it was kind of a wreck,” Jim Garrett said. “Dad fixed the mill all up.”

Elmer Garrett bought the waterwheel for the mill by the Fitz Water Wheel Company in Pennsylvania, Jim Garrett said.

“He put in the water wheel and built the flume,” he said. “I helped him.”

Elmer Garrett wasn’t sure what the end product was going to be as far as the use of the mill, but he had an interest in papermaking because that’s what his parents did, so he developed the mill as a papermaking museum, Jim Garrett said.

Elmer Garrett died in 1996.

Denning purchased the mill from the Garrett family in 2000 and has used it as a pottery studio. He and his immediate family live in a house near the mill.

Denning said his goal is to restore the mill to look like the historical landmark it is.

“It is such an iconic building for Bridgewater. The town considers it ‘Our mill,’ and everybody enjoys the view from the road — and I’m trying to restore that view,” he said.