By Fred Pace
register-herald business editor
Little Beaver State Park Foundation member and former state legislator Paul Hutchinson Jr. believes putting a historic grist mill at Little Beaver could become just as big of an attraction as the one at Babcock State Park in Fayette County.
“The Glade Creek Grist Mill at Babcock State Park is one of the most photographed spots in the West Virginia state park system,” Hutchinson said. “You see it on postcards, on calendars, on advertisements promoting tourism and many more places. People come from all over the world to see this historic mill, and I believe we can do the same thing at Little Beaver State Park.”
Hutchinson has recruited the expertise of Don Page, considered the father of the mill at Babcock, to be involved in the proposed mill project at Little Beaver. The proposal calls for purchasing an old mill in Nicholas County and moving it to Little Beaver.
“Don Page was the first head of the Arts and Crafts Division of the state Commerce Department under then-Gov. Hulett Smith,” Hutchinson said. “He is the man that found the combining part and pieces from three mills to construct the mill at Babcock and he also found the water wheel. He is an expert when it comes to these types of mills and projects. He has the knowledge and background to get this type of project completed.”
Page, a Beckley resident, says historic preservation projects have always been close to his heart.
“I am currently working with the group that is trying to renovate and restore the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building in downtown Beckley as an art center,” he said. “I am still staying active and working on as many programs and projects as I can for the benefit of historic preservation, arts and crafts, economic development and tourism in the state.”
Page said the Glade Creek Grist Mill at Babcock was completed in 1976.
“It’s fully operable,” he said. “This mill was built as a re-creation of one which once ground grain on Glade Creek long before Babcock became a state park. Known as Cooper’s Mill, it stood on the present location of the park’s administration building parking lot.”
Page said he traveled several hundred miles to find all the parts and pieces needed to reconstruct the mill.
“We found the water wheel just lying in the brush,” he said.
The wheel came from the Spring Run Grist Mill near Petersburg in Grant County that had been destroyed many years ago by an accidental fire. Only the overshot water wheel could be salvaged, according to a history of the mill on the state park’s Web site.
“That mill dates back to 1890,” Page said. “It was dismantled and moved piece by piece to Babcock from a spot near Campbelltown in Pocahontas County.”
Other parts for the mill came from the Onego Grist Mill near Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County, he said.
Page said the mill at Babcock is a living monument to the more than 500 mills which thrived in West Virginia at the turn of the 20th century.
“The Glade Creek Grist Mill provides freshly ground cornmeal and buckwheat flour which park guests may purchase,” he said. “It’s quite a tourist attraction.”
Page also believes the same thing can be accomplished at Little Beaver.
“My initial assessment is that only five trees and a picnic table would have to be moved to have a perfect site at the dam wall for the mill,” he said. “The site is not far from the interstate, and this mill would only enhance the recreation and tourism opportunities at the park, while at the same time preserving an important historical structure.”
Page said working grist mills can be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Visitors to the mill would be able to journey back to the time when grinding grain was a way of life and the groaning mill wheel was music to the miller’s ear,” he said.
Hutchinson is also trying to garner support from others for the mill project and recently took members of the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia on a tour of the mill near Craigsville.
“We’ve done a lot of restoration and preservation projects with the National Park Service system,” said Jennifer Douglas, the agency’s deputy director. “We have worked with the New River National Park Service on some restoration projects.”
Douglas said the mission of the CCC is to conduct projects and programs that strengthen and revitalize communities; provide self-esteem, educational enhancements and employment opportunities through meaningful work experiences for both youth and adults; and to conserve, develop and enhance the state’s natural resources.
She said the Little Beaver mill project appears to be a good fit with the corps.
“It’s exciting to me because this mill has a historical story to tell,” Douglas said. “It would be neat to be a part of this type of project.”
Hutchinson says although the proposal is in its initial stages, he feels action must be taken now to secure funding for purchasing the mill.
“If we don’t have adequate funds to purchase the mill, we could lose the opportunity to purchase it,” he explained.
On Jan. 4, the foundation paid $500 for a six-month option to purchase the mill for $35,000, according to Hutchinson. He said five foundation members have made reimbursing contributions on behalf of the project.
“If it is determined the project isn’t feasible, these five members didn’t want the foundation to be out anything,” he explained.
Hutchinson said for an additional $500 the foundation can extend the option another six months.
“That would give us a year to come up with the other $34,000,” he said. “That’s why we must act now and not wait and lose this valuable opportunity.”
Hutchinson said the foundation is seeking private and corporate donations to help fund the project, as well as approaching the state Division of Natural Resources about getting funding for it included in the state park system’s next budget.
“The DNR has made an appropriation request of $1 million to Gov. Joe Manchin in the next budget for campground completion and/or other park improvements,” Hutchinson said. “We would like the DNR to include $125,000 in that appropriation for start-up costs on the mill project. Then we can go in the direction of getting this mill project approved.”
Hutchinson said waiting until the campground project is completed could be a mistake.
“If we wait, we could lose the mill, and that would be a tragedy, in my opinion,” he said.
Hutchinson said the total cost of the Little Beaver mill project is currently estimated to be around $200,000.
No preliminary feasibility studies have been done on the proposed mill project, according to State Parks Acting Director Ken Caplinger.
“It’s premature on any decision-making at this point,” Caplinger said. “We don’t know if putting a mill this close to the dam would even be in compliance with dam safety regulations. There have been no studies done at all. Safety regulations will be an important part of such a study exercise.”
Caplinger said approval from the governor, the DNR director and the National Park Service would also be needed to move forward with the project.
Caplinger says he is in favor of studying the proposal, but he regards it as a lesser priority than completing the current campground project at the park.
“I have agreed, as a first step, to ask our engineering section to take a rudimentary, initial look at actual physical feasibility,” he said. “However, at the moment our engineers are involved with numerous other projects. I speculate it will be a few months before they can take a look.”
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Foundation purchases option to buy mill near Craigsville in Nicholas County
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