March 27, 2014

Restoration and Repurpose of The Mill in Freedom, Maine

  • By: Steven Piccione

"Reviving the Freedom Mill" will be shown at the 2014 Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C., Sunday, March 30, at 12:00 p.m.

When Tony Grassi, a retired investment banker, first visited the abandoned and dilapidated historic grist mill in Freedom, Maine, he was taken in by the value of the building not only for its connection to early American history, but also for the potential revitalizing effects it could have on the small town.

“It was literally a rotting mill,” Grassi said to Bangor Daily News. “It was terrible. We walked by and thought, ‘What a beautiful structure. And what a tragedy.’”

The story that unfolds from that first visit entails a renovation process that started in 2008 and culminated late last year. What makes the project unique are the ways Grassi approached the renovation from both a preservationist and environmentalist angle.

The restored site not only makes room for businesses in Freedom -- including a restaurant and a school -- but the building itself is once again harnessing hydropower, this time to produce electricity.

The new documentary first premiered at the Camden International Film Festival in September 2013.

This fall Preservation magazine will trace the details of the 1834 mill’s restoration, which was made possible by the federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC), a program now threatened in Congress.

But later this week, a documentary film directed by David Conover about the renovation and how the mill is now making a positive contribution to the natural environment will debut at the 2014 Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C.

Grassi hopes that the restoration will have positive effects not only in the small town of Freedom, but will encourage more investors to take on such historic endeavors.

“What I’d like to see is to harness this for power again and have historical buildings used again for today’s needs,” Grassi says in the “Reviving the Freedom Mill” documentary. “Maybe this will spread, and Freedom, as a village, can come back to life and be a vibrant place.”

View the trailer for "Reviving the Freedom Mill" here.

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