Millsboro’s Warren’s Mill collapsing; town weighs options

Historic Warren’s Mill, the Millsboro area’s last standing gristmill, is in deteriorating condition and several portions have undergone internal collapse. The mill is just off Betts Pond Road, heading north out of Millsboro. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO — Time, weather and termites have exacted a huge toll on Warren’s Mill, the greater Millsboro area’s last-known standing gristmill.

Town of Millsboro officials anticipate the century-old, deteriorating structure nestled along Betts Pond Road may soon be coming down, either via a natural collapse or through planned demolition.

Initial estimates for structure demolition and traffic control presented by Millsboro town engineer Carrie Kruger sent a shock wave through Town Council at its Tuesday meeting.

The total estimated price is $200,000, encompassing traffic management, barriers, a new guardrail and actual demolition of the unstable structure, which is sheathed in clapboard with a gambrel roof.

That amount, some council members and town officials say, is far too high. About three-fourths of it is earmarked to the Delaware Department of Transportation for traffic barriers and traffic control.

Councilman Larry Gum said spending $200,000 to tear something down is foolish. “I am uncomfortable spending that,” he said. “I can’t support it.”

Town manager Sheldon Hudson agreed.

“I’m with you, Mr. Gum,” he said. “Even if it comes down to $100,000, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that to council.”

Councilman John Thoroughgood also questioned the high price.

“Why is traffic control so expensive?” he asked. “I am not going to be for giving DelDOT $150,000 to direct traffic. The whole building isn’t worth that.”

Ms. Kruger, who recently joined the town of Millsboro’s staff in an engineer capacity, said a portion of the $150,000 is for barriers and detours and about $50,000 to $60,000 is for a permanent guardrail that is part of a larger DelDOT project.

“And they (DelDOT) have verbally told us that they would reimburse the town for that part, since that was part of their project anyway,” she said.

Actual demolition, Ms. Kruger said, is projected at about $43,000. She said the town intends to work with DelDOT in hopes of significantly lowering the cost of the project.

Built in the early 1900s, Warren’s Mill is named for Wilford B. Warren, who owned and operated it until the World War II era. Since that time, the mill has remained vacant.

Warren’s Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

In spring 2017, the town explored the possibility of preserving history and restoring the mill, utilizing a hydroelectric generation component. Eventually, it was determined that was not a feasible option.

Since then, several upper and window portions of the two-story mill, which stands mere feet from the two-lane state roadway separating it from Betts Pond, have begun to collapse internally.

“What if a thunderstorm came and knocked it down?” asked Millsboro Mayor Michelle Truitt.

Mr. Hudson replied: “It would kick it in a whole different regulatory silo. It would be a lot easier to contend with, let’s say it that way.”

One option the town could consider is donating the structure.

“I know some of us have an emotional attachment to the mill. I really think we should look at donating the mill at this point. Get what we want out of the building and donate it. Maybe the state would take it as a donation. Do we need to just divest ourselves of this at this point?” Mr. Hudson said.

“It’s hard because it has its historic value. But do the cons outweigh the pros at this point? It is appearing that way. If there were some things inside that were salvageable or a few planks of wood that we wanted to keep for nostalgia for posterity, great. I don’t know how much of an asset it really is. I think those of you who have been on council for a while know that it may have been more of curse than a blessing.”