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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

With Renovations, New Owners of the Old Stone Mill Seek to Inspire Collaborative Energy, Invigorate Community

<span class="photocreditinline">Michael Borenstein/The Middlebury Campus</span><br />The iconic marble façade of Middlebury’s historic Old Stone Mill, soon to house new dining, lodging, shopping and working options.
Michael Borenstein/The Middlebury Campus
The iconic marble façade of Middlebury’s historic Old Stone Mill, soon to house new dining, lodging, shopping and working options.

When you walk downtown along College Street, your eye may be drawn to one of Middlebury’s iconic and historic buildings — the Old Stone Mill. Built in 1840, this four-and-a-half-story building standing on the south bank of Otter Creek is turning a new leaf in Middlebury’s history. Stacey Rainey and Mary Cullinane, the co-owners of Community Barn Ventures (CBV) took over the property from the college — the previous owner for the last decade or so, finalizing the transaction in January.

“The plan for the building is to really create a destination in the community that people can come to daily, see their neighbors, hang out with their friends and celebrate the makers and producers in the area who are making ... some goods we at Middlebury sometimes don’t have access to easily,” Cullinane said. 

According to the renovation plan, the building will bring in a new restaurant on the first floor, open a public market on the second floor and provide a coworking space on the third. Meanwhile, an Airbnb will operate on the upper levels where short-term lodgings can be rented. While each floor has a different function and purpose, there is an interplay between those floors that encourages people to move from one to another while fostering a sense of community. 

“Each of those floors have some type of relationship with the things that are going on on the other floors,” explained Cullinane. “If someone is at the coworking space and they want to take a meeting, they could go down to the coffee shop and meet with the person down there.” 

Rainey and Cullinane hope to create a unique experience for the community by curating the space in a thoughtful way and designed the renovations so that each floor highlights varying dynamics within society. 

“We are trying to demonstrate how we can rethink some of these old paradigms based upon how things are working today,” Cullinane said. “The way people stay is changing — this idea of Airbnb really has had an impact on the opportunity for folks to get a different type of experience when they go into a community.” 

Cullinane explained that coworking is “changing the way people work” as freelancing becomes more and more common. “There are more folks who are able to work remotely and yet people still want a community.”   

Regarding the long legacy of the Old Stone Mill itself, Cullinane especially loves its dedication to innovation, and hopes to maintain this symbolism within the renovations.  “[The building] has represented throughout its history Middlebury’s ability to adjust ... it personifies innovation,” Cullinane said. “It personifies what we need to do as a community to react to our changing times, and it’s going to continue to represent that for us.” 

By broadening choices for customers and removing barriers for vendors to enter the Middlebury market, the public market on the second floor aims to provide a retail experience reimagined. 

“[The vendors] are all focused on products that you really want to see, or touch or feel in person, that don’t necessarily work as well if you are purchasing them online. That’s another way that we are thinking of the types of organizations we are talking to,” said Rainey. 

Just over 9,000 square feet, the Old Stone Mill is still structurally sound and its stone is still in fantastic shape. Despite the building’s good condition, it nevertheless poses certain architectural challenges for the renovation.

“It’s actually easier to design new buildings, generally speaking, but this one we really wanted to do because of its significance and its potential in the community,” said John McLeod, Assistant Professor of Architecture at Middlebury College. McLeod works on the Old Stone Mill renovation project with his firm McLeod Kredell Architects. 

Seeing the falls and the mills as nurturing sources for the town of Middlebury and the college, McLeod felt it was “a chance to preserve and give a new life to a building that is a fundamental part of this place and this community.”

“The challenges are that, with any old building, things tend not to be square and plumb and level and clean and precise,” McLeod explained. “But what we are trying to do architecturally is really to honor and respect the historic building, and then have what’s new, especially on the inside, reveal that historical material and architecture and also have a conversation with it.”  

After moving to Middlebury 15 years ago, McLeod spent the first three and a half years living in a little yellow house right across from the Old Stone Mill. Built at the same time as the mill, the house was the home of the miller.  

“I always felt this connection and fondness towards the Old Stone Mill. I taught actually for a semester in the mill ... and my office is just up the hill a little bit from the Old Stone Mill. I see the building and walk by it every day. I have just always admired it architecturally,” said McLeod.

The renovation plan includes the installation of a new elevator, an outdoor dining space with a terrace, a bigger deck in the direction of the pedestrian footbridge and a revamp of two stair towers to make them more translucent.

Considering energy efficiency as part of a good architecture design, McLeod believes the renovation project will improve the energy performance of the building. 

“The good thing is that ... thick stone walls are really good at dealing with fluctuations in the temperature throughout the day, and even throughout the seasons,” said McLeod, explaining that the thick stone walls help temper the climate in both cold and warm weather. They do plan, though, to improve efficiency by adding insulation in key areas such as the roof.

Previously part of the Old Stone Mill program of the college, the building provided a supportive space for many students to pursue non-academic, self-designed projects. The place served as an incubator for entrepreneurialism, creative passions and new ideas. 

“Part of the beauty is that so many people use it for so many different things. We had one guy who wanted to store his computer to develop an app. He was the winner of MiddChallenge,” said Sarah Haedrich ’19.5, an environmental studies and geography major and a board member of the Old Stone Mill. 

While the program is in transition to a new space and a rebranded name, Haedrich hopes that the kind of collaborative supportive creative energy will continue at the Old Stone Mill. 

“It would be really cool for that space to be a good link ... for town people and students to interact and hopefully it can be an inviting space. People are working, and hopefully they are collaborating too, and new relationships can be formed,” Haedrich said.

“It’s a really cool old building that is right in the center of town, so it will be fun to see what they do with it,” said Erik Arvidsson ’21, a joint History and Political Science major and another board member. 

“I think it’s great idea, especially because nicer Airbnb apartments probably get used by a lot of visiting parents and alumni. And hopefully CBV can provide the advice and support for the businesses that inhabit the space to stay afloat because I know there have been a lot of businesses going under and closing their doors in town,” continued Ardivsson. 

According to Rainey, the college will have access to one of the vendor stalls in the public market and ten spaces in the coworking level for a period of ten years. Both Rainey and Cullinane wanted the building to continue providing a stage for student work as well as to support student lifestyle. 

“It really is a local team, the owners, the contractor, we the architect, the engineers, everybody is part of this community, and everyone is excited to bring this online to invigorate what’s already a great downtown and really have an opportunity to bring the town and the college together,” said McLeod.

For any ideas, questions, and comments regarding the renovation plan, please contact CBV at connect@communitybarnventures.