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Rebuilding history: $1.1 million needed for Baxter Grist Mill repairs 1-30-17

Rebuilding history: $1.1 million needed for Baxter Grist Mill repairs

Project would reinforce dam, rebuild fish ladder at Baxter Grist Mill.

Cape Cod Times
By Madeleine List

WEST YARMOUTH - About 300 years of history sit between Mill Pond and Route 28, and the site is in need of some modern-day help.

The infrastructure around the Baxter Grist Mill, a corn-grinding mill built by two brothers-in-law in 1710, needs about $1.1 million in improvements before workers can rehabilitate the building and eventually reopen it to the public.

On Wednesday, the Community Preservation Committee voted unanimously to place an article on the May 6 town meeting warrant asking voters to appropriate the sum from Community Preservation Act funding.

The mill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, could be susceptible to erosion and other damage if a dam separating Mill Pond and Mill Creek overtops, according to Jeff Colby, director of the Yarmouth Department of Public Works.

Between 1710 and 1860, ownership of the mill stayed within the Baxter family, passing from the sons of Thomas Baxter to their children, Richard and Jennie, who married each other despite being first cousins, said Duncan Oliver, a member of the Yarmouth Historical Commission.

The mill underwent a series of repairs, was switched from a waterwheel mill to a turbine mill, and a road was built leading directly to it so farmers could drop their corn off at the door, Oliver said.

But despite the improvements, the mill went dormant and the dam at the abandoned site gave way twice in the early 1900s.

"It really hasn't been right since then," Oliver said of the dam.

Today, the earthen dam has little reinforcement and is missing some concrete walls on the pond side, Colby said. Also, stormwater flows through a spillway that goes under the building and wears on the structure.

With the project money, Colby hopes to reinforce the dam and add a concrete wall. To avoid changing the historical look of the site, he plans to face the concrete with stone and repoint some of the existing stone walls.

As an added protection against erosion, he plans to reinforce the earthen areas with a geogrid, a flexible mesh that stabilizes soil while allowing grass to grow through it.

"We want to keep the site looking as historically correct and as close to today as we can," he said.

Another aspect of the project is to rebuild a fish ladder that connects the creek and the pond. A survey by the state Division of Marine Fisheries determined that the ladder is too steep for some of the fish that use it, said Karl von Hone, director of natural resources in Yarmouth.

The primary species that use the ladder are blueback herring, alewives and American eels, he said.

As part of the project, workers will build a more gradual ladder and incorporate an adjacent spillway. This will allow more efficient access to the pond for fish and eliminate the spillway that flows under the mill, directing water away from the structure and preventing further damage, Colby said.

In the future, Colby said, he hopes to rehabilitate the actual building, but he needs to make sure the site is stable first.

The mill has been closed to the public for more than a decade and has not been functional since the 1980s, Oliver said. Oliver and other history enthusiasts do not want to see the historic gem languish.

"I would hate to see it destroyed or changed," he said.

- Follow Madeleine List on Twitter: @madeleine_list.

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