Losing a piece of history

Vevay Roller Mill demolished
despite attempts to save it

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

VEVAY, Ind. (Sept. 2003) – Despite a last minute rally by preservationists, the historic Vevay Roller Mill in Switzerland County was demolished in June to make way for a new county jail.
The mill, built in the mid-1800s, was one of the country’s few in tact pre-Civil War industrial bu ildings. “We would’ve loved to have kept that old mill, but it was sitting on prime real estate that was needed for a new jail,” said county board of commissioners

Vevay Roller Mill

Vevay Roller Mill.

president K.C. Banta.
A motion to tear down the mill “due to future projects” was made by Brian Morton at the county commissioners’ June 16 meeting, “was seconded by Craig Bond and passed unanimously,” according to meeting minutes. Immediately preceding the decision to tear down the mill was a motion by Morton to build a 52-bed jail for the Sheriff’s Department and the courthouse annex. That motion also was seconded by Bond and passed unanimously, the minutes read.
Switzerland County does not currently have facilities for housing prisoners, but must transport them to surrounding counties where they are housed for a fee. “The county spends $300,000 a year housing prisoners outside the county because there are no facilities here,” Banta said. “We needed that property for a jail.”
Upon hearing of the mill’s imminent destruction, preservationists from the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana attempted to bring the mill’s fate back to the table for discussion.
Since 1999, the mill had been included on the foundation’s “10 Most Endangered Landmarks in Indiana” list. The list is published annually to draw attention to significant historic places in Indiana that are threatened with extinction by deterioration, demolition, neglectful owners, development pressures and sprawl. It is often used as a tool by the organization to rally support, and has been instrumental in saving several historic buildings in the state from destruction.
Greg Sakula of the foundation’s Jeffersonville, Ind., field office said he contacted commissioner Brian Morton, the only commissioner he could reach at the time, to ask if the county would be interested in selling the mill to the foundation. Morton replied that the decision had already been made to tear down the mill and that the county planned to locate a jail on the property, according to Sakula.
“The indication was that there was no interest in pursuing (preservation of the mill) any further,” Sakula said.
The mill was demolished on June 20, just a few days after commissioners voted in favor of doing so.
Roller Mill Demolition

Photo submitted by Martha Bladen

Demolition of the Vevay Roller Mill

Although the commissioners moved quickly to tear down the mill after deciding to do so, the decision was not made in haste according to board of commissioners president K.C. Banta. The mill’s value had been deliberated for at least five years, Banta claimed, during which time various groups tried unsuccessfully to introduce alternatives to demolition. “It just wasn’t happening. There was no movement on it,” he said.
Some, including David Denman of the Historic Landmarks Foundation’s Aurora, Ind., field office, disagreed. Until a little more than a month prior to demolition, Denman said Historic Landmarks had been in discussions with a group interested in the mill. Denman declined to name the group but said they had demonstrated genuine interest and were considering an adaptive use of the building.
Also, said Denman, he and Sakula had spoken with county commissioners in October 2002 and were told that no action would be taken on the mill for at least two years. At that time, the board of commissioners gave Historic Landmarks a mandate to find an alternative use for the building, said Denman. “We were well within the two year time period. The news of (the mill’s) destruction came as an incredible urprise,” he said.
Historic Landmarks is not the only group that tried unsuccessfully to save the roller mill from the wrecking ball. A non-profit organization called “Friends of the Historic Vevay Roller Mill Inc.” had made several attempts to procure grant funds and private donations to save the mill from being demolished. Switzerland County resident Barbara Huffman, one of the founding Friends members, said that the group was impeded in their quest for grant funding because they did not own the building and did not have any type of formal lease agreement with the county that would allow them to restore the mill should grants be acquired. “We had to get permission from the commissioners in writing, which (they) did not give,” said Huffman.
Despite being unable to apply for grant funding, the Friends group was able to elicit interest in the mill from some businesses. “We had several large corporations who had promised hundreds of thousands of dollars for restoration,” Huffman said. These included Procter and Gamble, General Mills and Bob Evans, according to Huffman. The group were very unhappy to hear that the mill was torn down, despite previous efforts to preserve it. “We feel that it was senseless destruction,” said Huffman. “I think now that it’s gone some people are regretting it.”
“Realistically, we knew that it couldn’t be made back into a mill again,” said Switzerland County Historical Society president Martha Bladen, who had hoped to see some adaptive use of the building. “We’re unhappy that it had to be torn down.”
Before the mill was torn down, several pieces of historic mill equipment were salvaged by the historical society, according Bladen. The equipment, which county commissioners donated to the society, will be housed in a barn to be constructed at the living history museum located three miles west of Vevay. The barn will be built using $15,000 funded by the county. “We’re very pleased to have gotten the equipment,” Bladen said.

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