CANTON - The Morley Grist Mill may eventually face property foreclosure by St. Lawrence County unless someone comes up with a gameplan for preserving the historic stone structure along the banks of the Grasse River.
Efforts by the Morley Heritage Grist Mill Association, Inc., to renovate the 19th-century building and create a museum came to a standstill a few years ago after funding sources dried up and the number of association members dwindled.
Patricia T. Dominie, an active Morley resident, said it would be a shame to lose the grist mill because it symbolizes the community’s heritage. It was placed on the National List of Historic Places in 1982.
“The grist mill and Trinity (Episcopal) Chapel were the two first things here when Morley was settled,” Mrs. Dominie said. “The grist mill is the first thing you see when drive into Morley from that direction.”
Located about six miles north of the village of Canton on County Route 14 in the hamlet of Morley, the mill was constructed in 1840 by Thomas L. Harison, who used stone from his own quarry, according to county records. Local families took the grist of wheat, oats, barley and shelled corn to the mill where millstones ground the grain into various flours until 1936 when operations ceased.
St. Lawrence County Treasurer Kevin M. Felt said the grist mill association owes a total of $770 for unpaid taxes and late fees for 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Although most properties with two or more years of unpaid taxes are foreclosed on by the county and sold to the highest bidder, Mr. Felt said he decided not to include the Morley Grist Mill in next fall’s public auction, but the future is uncertain.
“I hate to see it go because of its historical value,” Mr. Felt said. “I have reached out to town officials and the county historian to see if they had any ideas about restoring it.”
Also, Mr. Felt said the mill’s riverfront foundation was damaged by ice this winter, and he was concerned about opening the county to liability issues if the property were sold to lowest bidder at public auction.
The mill’s listed owner is Charles R. LaShombe, 47 Reynolds Road, Norwood, who served as grist mill association president.
Mr. LaShombe could not be reached for comment.
The association was the recipient of several grants, but problems developed with the final draw of a $92,226 state grant from the Clean Air/Clean Water Bond Act and the Environmental Protection Fund.
Canton Assessor Steven E. Teele said although the mill is exempt from property taxes it is required to pay about $90 a year in taxes for being in Morley’s fire and lighting districts. The building is assessed at $45,000 and has 3,000 square feet.
Besides structural work, the mill also lacks water and sewer service. It had been for sale but was later taken off the market.
Mr. Felt said he’s concerned that if someone buys the building without a plan the building will just be left to deteriorate and the burden will fall back to the county.
Canton Town Supervisor David T. Button said the town may be able to explore some possibilities, but the building has issues the town would have to deal with such as lack of a septic and water system and shortage of parking.
“It’s more than just coming up with the money to purchase it. It’s what do we do with the building after that,” Mr. Button said.
J. Susanne Longshore, interim director of the county Historical Association, said she’s not aware of any additional grant money available to save the structure.
“There was a very active group that was trying to preserve it for an educational facility. I believe the group went defunct,” Mrs. Longshore said.
“We (county historical association) are not in a position to take on the maintenance of another facility,” she said.
She plans to relay the information to the historical association board members to see if anyone has suggestions or ideas for saving the structure.
“This may be the only mill standing in St. Lawrence County. It’s sort of a unique part of our history,” Mrs. Longshore said. “The mills were the center of all early settlements in the county.”