Historic Millsboro grist mill’s days are numbered

Historic Warren’s Mill, the Millsboro area’s last standing grist mill, will be demolished once various approvals are received from the Department of Transportation regarding detour and barrier plans. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO – Historic Warren’s Mill’s days appear to be numbered.

The greater Millsboro area’s last known standing grist mill will be coming down, either by planned demolition or natural causes through collapse on its own.

“Actually, as of last night (May 3) after that windstorm there is another hole in the middle of it. But it pushed it in, not out,” Millsboro town councilman John Thoroughgood reported during town council’s May 4 teleconference meeting.

“The termites aren’t holding hands anymore,” Millsboro Mayor Michelle Truitt said.

“They are not,” said Mr. Thoroughgood.

Town of Millsboro is awaiting clearance from Delaware’s Department of Transportation for detour and barrier plans to proceed with demolition of the deteriorating century-old, wooden structure on Betts Pond Road.

A couple scavenger birds sit atop the roof of Warren’s Mill in Millsboro. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

“We’re waiting on DelDOT to come back for approvals for I believe the detours so that we can get the demolition moving. We met with two demolition contractors so now the ball is in DelDOT’s court,” said Millsboro Assistant Town Manager Jamie Burk.

“We are awaiting the detour plan approval from DelDOT,” said Millsboro Public Works Director Ken Niblett. “There are other things concerning guard rails and such that are coming to the forefront that have to be approved.”

“Also, because there is a mill run, they (DelDOT) had to get the bridge department involved. It is actually a bridge, technically, because it is open underneath,” said Mr. Burk. “We have been working with DelDOT and we have explained to them that time is of the essence.”

Carrie Kruger, the town’s liaison with Duffield Associates, said she asked the Duffield team on the project status just prior to the council meeting. “The detour plan is either on DelDOT’s desk for final approval,” she said. “And there is a barrier plan that they have requested and that has been drafted and is currently in internal review.”

Built in the early 1900s, Warren’s Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Its name is taken from Wilford B. Warren, who owned and operated it until the World War II era. Since that time, it has remained vacant.

Three years ago, in spring of 2017, the town launched initial exploration on possibly preserving history and restoring the mill utilizing a hydro-electric generation component. Over time, that option moved to the backburner.

“It came back that it didn’t look like it was a viable option, and from a cost-benefit standpoint whatever energy might be generated would take many, many years to recover the initial investment,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “It was a neat idea. I think it was worth exploring a bit. But I would say that has been shelved at this point.”

“I think the goal basically at best would be to build some sort of replica of the current structure, either on the current site or possibly even a different site. That has yet to be determined,” Mr. Hudson said.

These days, primary concern is stability of the structure sheathed in clapboard with a gambrel roof that stands — at least as of May 5 — on its concrete base a short distance from the winding, two-lane state roadway that separates the mill from Betts Pond.

“If this should fall down before that meeting is realized, will that bump things a little bit?” Mayor Truitt asked.

“I will certainly pray and hope that doesn’t happen,” said Ms. Kruger. “I have been trying to keep Jamie Burk abreast of what is happening and keep him up to date. So, I will keep pushing the team. As soon as they submit that barrier plan, we’ll get in contact with DelDOT.”

Mr. Hudson asked Ms. Kruger for a possible ballpark timeframe with DelDOT.

“The barrier plan, typically DelDOT might take weeks to review something like that. But they did seem to be willing to work with us fairly quickly,” said Ms. Kruger. “I think as soon as they get the barrier plan, we will arrange another call with them and see when we can go ahead and get one of the demolition contractors mobilized.”

“They are aware, that is a possibility that it could collapse, and possibly block the whole road at that time,” councilman Larry Gum said. “The project can be escalated very quickly, I would imagine.”

“We certainly did mention that at the last meeting; how dire the situation is,” said Ms. Kruger.

One possibility from a historical perspective would be to salvage some of the inner workings of the mill and historical materials.

“Just looking at the condition of some of the wood I don’t know if it is salvageable because of termites,” said Mr. Burk.

“The hope is certainly to be able to salvage on a limited basis some of the wood, but probably not even to use in a new structure,” said Mr. Hudson.

That could include a tribute, recognizing the mill’s historical significance. “Maybe a decorative wall at town hall, to maybe say, ‘The wood on this wall came from Warren’s Mill.’ But I think using it in a replica-type structure seems to be pretty unlikely at this point.”