We caught up with Jay Winer, Managing Partner of the Mill, to get his take on the Mill’s history and his hopes for its future.
This complex of buildings used to be a cotton mill. It closed in 1947 after 125 years of operation. Why did your family decide to purchase it in 1950, and what were they envisioning?
My father and his five brothers and two sisters developed a major manufacturing plant in Odenton in Anne Arundel County in 1941. That plant produced high pressure plastic laminate (think Formica) called Nevamar and extruded fiber from plastic for commercial applications. They bought the Mill to meet their storage and assembly space needs. They were advised to consider razing the buildings to accommodate more modern manufacturing processes. Fortunately, my family recognized the beauty of the complex and had an abiding respect for the history of its use. Over the years they utilized the Mill as part of their manufacturing business, they installed modern sprinkler systems and shored up many of the structural problems. Although it was difficult for them to see what the Mill could become, all the work to maintain the structural integrity of the complex made the later renovation and reuse of the buildings possible.
You’ve been connected with the Mill your whole life. Why did you initially get involved in the operations, and what has kept you here for over five decades?
I joined the family “business” in 1971, two years after graduating from college. Several family members were moving toward retirement and the Mill needed to be cared for, developed or sold. I began by helping with leasing and maintenance. Antique dealers and a few artist colonies had discovered the Mill. A vision came into focus to create a space for a mix of art, antiques and small businesses. It took almost 15 years to establish the property on the National Register of Historic Places to ensure its protection and get a staged plan in place to finance and renovate the buildings. It’s been a lifelong journey to get the property to become self-sufficient. I like to repeat that there is a fine line between historic and “just plain old”.
What is part of your legacy here that you’re most proud of?
Nurturing businesses and relationships that grow and succeed, sometimes even beyond the space that the Mill can provide. Continuing my own family’s commitment to keeping the Mill vibrant and a great example of entrepreneurial stewardship. Remaining committed to the people that make the place go every day, staff, tenants and visitors. Last but not least, the opportunity to pass on that work to my next generation.
A lot of things have needed repair over the years. What are some of the most memorable projects?
One of the most memorable projects was the first roof replacement for the New Weave building in 1985. There were numerous layers of built-up roofing on top of the wood structure and the roof had been leaking for many years. We removed a large section of the roof so that dump trucks could drive into the building. Several of the historic Georgia pine beams were water damaged. Specially designed wood beam replacements, some as large as 12” x 18”, 25 feet long, were hoisted into place and bolted together with healthy wood to reform the structure for the building.
You’ve sometimes spoken of the people here as being a family. How has that affected the decisions you’ve made?
One of the many unique aspects of the property is that it remains the antithesis of modern, commercial buildings. It continues to represent its historic past with multi-floor, interconnected buildings and small spaces that are “off the beaten path”. It’s been a home for small businesses, craftspeople and artists since the early 1970’s. We have always maintained a personal presence on the property for managing and maintaining it. We work directly with every person to help get the best utilization of their space and their business. We maintain close relationships with the tenants to be aware of their needs and their individual stories. Some of them have been here for decades. We celebrate their success and support them during challenging times, just like family.
What is the fondest memory your family has here?
Though my father, uncles and aunts are all gone now, I’ll always remember the time over 50 years ago that we all walked through the Mill visualizing the future. I recall our vision included reusing the Mill race and attracting lots of visitors. Best of all, I remember the interactions we had with the people who were at the Mill then who stopped to talk with us, reminisce, tell stories, and connect with our family.
What is the funniest/strangest thing you’ve witnessed?
I remember when one of our tenants had a big argument with his daughter. She was so angry that she drove her car into the side of the Cotton Shed building! Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it certainly made an impression on me!
What hopes do you have for the Mill going forward?
The Mill has made great strides in getting “on the beaten track” and providing a small business incubator of sorts for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. We work to find new ways for more people to discover and enjoy this unique property and its people. My hope is that the Mill is found and supported by even greater numbers of our neighbors and visitors from all over the region and the country.
Finally, do you think there are ghosts here?
I personally don’t believe in them, but I certainly hope so!