Miracle on Mill Street

September 11, 2015

— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

 

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How much would you be willing to pay to spend a night in this?  (Here’s a few close-ups.)

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Still undecided?  This might sway you.
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Imagine waking up to the dawn chorus of larks and sparrows, and gazing out on the rolling, bucolic landscape through this splendidly arched window.  A mug of hot, steaming coffee in hand.
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Still wondering?

Don’t bother, ‘cause you don’t have a chance of staying here.  For starters, it’s booked solid through December 2017 — at a cool £475 per night.  That’s 475 British pounds sterling.  That’s $732 USD.

Obviously, I left something out of this little story.  Omitted was (a) someone with a vision and (b) someone with skilled hands.  People like this:
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Vision

Hands

A visionary and a pair of hands, the two ingredients missing from my little story.

Think of Rodin’s hands.  Fingers that, from indifferent, unyielding marble, created “The Kiss.”  Think of the mind of Steve Jobs, the visionary who could thrill an audience with the challenge, “Let’s go invent tomorrow, rather than worrying about what happened yesterday.”

With these two ingredients, we’re ready to reconsider that pile of rubble, above, currently renting at $732 per night.  We’re ready because somebody like Steve Jobs looked at that pile of rock, and didn’t see a “mess”; he saw “possibilities.”

The visionary happened to be 3 men, and this is what they saw:
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To make it happen, they needed a pair of hands that could perform magic on that crumbling mass of stone and mortar.

They got lucky.  They found a master mason.  (Actually, they found a number of master craftsmen.)  And this is what their hands built:
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Look carefully.  What you’re looking at is a 21st-century building erected within a ruined, 13th-century castle in Warwickshire, England.  It goes by the name “Astley Castle.”  Strictly speaking, it was never a castle; it was a manor house that was added onto over the centuries, including the addition of decorative parapets (i.e., “gingerbread”).

Ingenious!

Okay, how much would you pay to spend a night here?
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Photo by Hugh Hill

 

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Though never a castle chock full of chivalrous knights, this pile of stone speaks an equally important story.  Once upon a time this building was the economic heart and soul of a soon-to-be-prosperous town on a river notable for its salmon.  (Today, the salmon are gone, yet the river remains one of the finest fly-fishing rivers in the Northeast.)

You’re looking at what used to be the principal grist mill in “Malone, Star of the North since 1802.”  Somewhere in that rubble is a mill race and huge gears that turned growling millstones to produce “milled” flour.  (Remember, no electricity back then.  The Salmon River offered free and abundant kinetic energy.)
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Today, the mill is a ruin — a warning of the fate of the village that grew up around it?

“You’re  wrong; it’s not a ruin,” objects a voice.  The voice of the man, below.  (The one labeled “visionary.”)
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Dean Chapman is a medical doctor and ordained Presbyterian minister.  “You’re wrong; it’s not a ruin!” he repeats.

Dr. Chapman grew up in Malone.  He’s 65.  He moved back here, half a dozen or so years ago, to deliver the message, “Malone is not a ruin!”  Hundreds of other people, many of them professionals, have re-settled here (my wife & I among them) with the same message either on their lips or in their heart.

Dean has launched what is basically a “Take Back Malone” movement at ground zero:  the old, busted down Horton Mill.  The doc thinks broken, derelict buildings are a symptom of a broken community.  As a minister and physician, he has made it his life’s work to heal broken spirits.
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Restoring this pile of rubble is his Rx to this community.

His vision is to restore the Horton Mill the same way Astley Castle was restored, by erecting a building within a building!  That is, a modern building within the 200-year-old walls you’re looking at.

No, he doesn’t intend to rent it out as a boutique hotel.  He has a more compelling idea.  He wants to create a hands-on institute for high school students.  Where young men & women create and learn to manage and market hydroponic gardening in one part of the building, and, working with the Mohawk Nation, create and market native crafts in the other part.  (Mohawk youth would make the native crafts.  The crafts would be marketed by both native and non-native teens.)

In other words, he imagines a teaching center, teaching local youth (including Mohawk teens) the skills of building, managing, and marketing a product, namely hydroponically-grown produce and Mohawk artisanry.

He’s not asking for your money. (He bought it with his own money.  He’s started restoring it with his money, forming a small philanthropy called the North Star of the Adirondacks Foundation.)  He doesn’t want a grant — not yet.  He doesn’t want some wealthy foundation to do it, nor the government.  He wants you and me to do it.  With our hands and brains and, most of all, our revived faith in this community.

So far, he’s found these hands.
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They belong to this man.  A skilled mason.  More importantly, the man with the hands is a man of faith — the “can do” spirit of the people who built the Horton Mill and Malone two centuries ago.
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Brian Ray

The farmers, tradesmen, and merchants who built the schools and churches and Malone’s other public buildings did so without benefit of grants or government checks; they used their money, modest as it was, and above all their pioneer’s sense that “we can do this.”

They mortgaged their farms, in some cases, to raise the money to buy materials and equipment — and they, themselves, did much of the work.  And when a local artisan the likes of Brian Ray put in a lot of his time, the rest chipped in and paid him (or her) by drumming up funds with bake sales, raffles, or other novel means.

Dr. Chapman’s point is that the resulting building will be a community enterprise, to benefit all of us.  He sees the process as a way of building community spirit — that mysterious, ineffable optimism that is now all but perished in the village that grew up on the banks of the Salmon River.  As if it grew up, grew old, died, and fell down.

Dean Chapman doesn’t believe this.  The doc says it’s not dead.  He intends to bring this near-corpse back to vibrant life.  Like Jesus, another visionary, he exhorts us, “Take up your bed and walk!”

Walk over to Horton Mill and lend a hand.  Walk over and help create the future.  (Dr. Chapman can be reached at nsaf@savehortonmill.org.)
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“With regard to the mill,” writes Chapman, “the North Star of the Adirondacks Foundation (NSAF) is still in the early stages of a massive undertaking, and it’s much more a dream than a reality at the moment.  It will be challenge enough for, this fall, to stem the decay of the little bit of the mill that remains.”

He continues:

Our immediate goal is to remove the debris from the inside of the building’s shell and cover the tops of the walls to prevent further loss of mortar.  In the late spring/early summer, we will launch a campaign to “Save the Mill.”  The results of that campaign will determine in large part just how much we can get done.

There is one step that we can all take right now.  It involves a change of heart and a change of attitude.  It seems we residents of Malone have adopted an unspoken belief that was simply unheard of by our parents, grandparents, and all previous generations.  Our current belief has never been a part of Malone, dating all the way back to when the village was carved out of the North Country wilderness and the original Horton Mill was built.

Our unspoken belief is this: that somewhere, somehow, someone else is going to tackle our challenges for us.  It’s as if we believe that some government Tinkerbell is on the verge of dusting the mill with grant money, and magically restoring it to its original glory.  Such an idea is pure fantasy, and the sooner we realize that and give it up, the sooner we have the chance to rise to the stature of our ancestors.  If the mill is to be rebuilt, it will have to be accomplished by the same “magic” that built the original [structure] — the spirit of the people living here.

It’s us, or nobody.

It will have to be all of us, not just a handful of individuals, no matter how dedicated or committed.  It took the whole community to raise the mill the first time and it will take all of us to get it done this time. The challenge is simply too great for one person, or a few people.  It is a challenge fit for a community.

I invite you to take the first small step today.  It’s a simple one.  Instead of thinking, “I wonder what they can do,” adjust your approach to “I wonder what we can do?”

If the spirit of our ancestors is still alive in us, we can do more than anyone imagines.

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Again, Dr. Chapman can be reached at nsaf@savehortonmill.org.

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