CANTON - For decades, the historic Morley Grist Mill on the banks of the Grasse River hummed day and night grinding wheat and other grains into flour that was exported throughout the region.
Those days are long gone, but today’s flurry of activity focuses on preserving the 19th-century landmark for generations ahead.
A band of volunteers has united this summer to save the 3,000 square-foot structure from being foreclosed because about $770 in unpaid taxes and late fees are owed to St. Lawrence County. The mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The Morley Heritage Grist Mill Association, Inc., which had been inactive for the past few years, has been resurrected with new board members who have developed a long-range plan for the mill, also known as the Harrison Morley Grist Mill, County Route 14.
Charles R. LaShombe, a 61-year-old Norfolk resident who served as association president for years, has passed the reigns over to his son-in-law, Ralph C. Krise, Parishville. Mr. LaShombe will serve as vice president and continue to play an active role in saving the mill, a project he launched several years ago.
“This has been my father-in-law’s dream,” Mr. Krise said during an interview at the waterfront site in the hamlet of Morley, about six miles from Canton. “I don’t want to see that die. I would hate to see 20 years of his work wasted. This is one of the only grist mills still standing in the county.”
The association’s board now has five members who have developed a four-phase plan. The first priority is raising enough funds to cover three years worth of back taxes. Although the building is exempt from property taxes, it’s charged about $90 a year for Morley’s light and fire districts.
Volunteers are now selling raffle tickets, labeled “Save the Mill.” The tickets are $5 each with the drawing scheduled for Sept. 1. First prize is $500, second prize, $250 and third prize, $150. They hope to sell at least 500 tickets.
The next step will be developing a website that could be used to relay information to a wider national and international audience.
“Once the taxes are taken care of, we can move forward on the website,” Mr. Krise said. “I want to try to link up with others who have successfully renovated mills in the United States and Canada.”
Besides fundraisers, the new board will be exploring whether grants and other funding are available to help cover expenses. The estate of Edna R. Short, Brasher Falls, bequeathed $20,000 to the association that was used to construct a portico at the mill’s entrance two years ago.
After the new website is developed, the first phase also includes reconstructing a two-story barn on the property that was torn down in the 1950’s. An old photograph shows the location of the barn which was used to store flour after it was milled.
Mr. Krise said board members decided it made sense to start with the barn rather than mill renovations, but a timeline for construction has not yet been set.
Once the barn is complete, it could house photographs, diagrams and other memorabilia related to the mill. Visitors could also see a portable grinder that’s used to demonstrate how the milling operation works. Before operations ceased in 1936, Gold Medal Flour was produced at the mill. The barn may also include a small store where heritage products and flour could be sold. Classes could also be held there.
The second phase would involve repairing the foundation and sidewall on the riverfront side of the building that has deteriorated. Installing new supports in the middle of the building is also part of that phase.
Reconstructing the barn roof, particularly the upper roof section which is deteriorating, is included in plans for the third phase.
Restoring an old lean-to where people would park their buggies is part of plans for the fourth phase.
Several years ago, 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. By the time the money was received, support for and membership in the organization had dwindled.
The association is a 501 C-3 tax exempt corporation that’s chartered through the New York state Regents Department. Documentation about it being placed on the historic register is kept at the St. Lawrence County Historical Association.
Mr. LaShombe said he’s pleased the association is back in action, trying to save the grist mill.
“There is so much potential,” he said.
Mr. Krise can be reached by email at: email@example.com or by calling 244-6352.