June 21, 2018
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Kennebunkport group seeking to rebuild historic gristmill destroyed in 1994 fire

Contributed image | York County Coast Star
Contributed image | York County Coast Star
A Kennebunkport group hopes to fully restore a historic grist mill in the town, pictured here by photographer Robert Dennis before it burned in 1994.
By Jennifer Feals, York County Coast Star

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — A plan to reconstruct the gristmill and restore it to working order is underway.

The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust came before the Board of Selectmen on June 13 with its plan to rebuild the structure — which was built around 1749 and burned down in 1994 — as a working mill. It would be the only working tidal mill in America, said Tom Bradbury, executive director of the trust, who said a generous donor has come forward to help finance the reconstruction.

“It’s a great piece of history, a great piece of learning,” Bradbury said. “Arguably, it’s always been one of the most beautiful and historic properties in the town of Kennebunkport. Everybody has a story and everybody has a fond recollection of something that happened at that property.”

Under town ordinance, the Board of Selectmen is required to review an application in which any part of a structure projects out over the water. The application then moves on to the planning board for a full review. The plan for the gristmill was scheduled to go before the planning board on June 19. Results of that meeting were not known at press time.

Bradbury said state and federal permits have been secured.

The board approved the trust’s application to reconstruct the gristmill, with board members Mike Weston and Ed Hutchins recusing themselves, as they are sit on the organization’s board of directors.

Bradbury said the organization has been working to “protect special places in Kennebunkport” for 40 years.

“Our vision is to find places that are meaningful and set them aside so that they’ll be able to be enjoyed for all time,” he said. “One of the decisions we made as a board is that for all of our properties, we should try to make them the best they should be. All of them have different uses and we try to make the best use of each one of them.”

The gristmill burned down in 1994, but under the trust’s project, the original building would be replicated. The mill would be returned to working order, with the potential to actually grind grain a few hours a day when tides allow, said architect Steve Doe. While the original mill used an underwater turbine, an undershot paddle will be installed as part of the reconstruction, he said.

Members of the Board of Selectmen supported the idea, but raised questions about the potential effect to the abutting neighborhood.

Bradbury said the trust plans to include a small museum-type store on the property, offering items related to mills.

“This is a general outline of what we propose and we recognize the fact that there are difficulties to foresee what’s going to happen in the future. Our goal is always to be a good neighbor of wherever we are,” Bradbury said. “So even after the Planning Board process ends, our relationship as neighbors remains and we’ll continue to work to be a good neighbor. If something isn’t working, we’ll do what it takes to make it work.”

In other business, the board approved a request by the Landing School to place a memorial bench at the Cape Porpoise Pier in honor of two students, Prescott Wright, 23, and Zachary Wells, 21, who died off the coast last winter.

“It’s also a commemoration to the town for their support. The community was very supportive,” said Jamie Houtz, who represented the Landing School.

Selectwoman Sheila Matthews-Bull called the memorial bench “very thoughtful.”

“I think it speaks well of our community and how we all pull together.”

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