Feagans Mill in Jefferson County W.Va. was recently added to the state’s Endangered Historic Structures list. The structures on the list are at risk of facing demolition and neglect.
Feagans Mill, a historic structure composed mainly of gray stone and a brick creamery to its side, rests in the woods surrounded by sycamore and cedars. Some of its federal-style windows are now boarded up while others with broken panes allow the foliage to grow inside the crevices.
The Story of Feagans Mill: Then and Now
The mill is the third of three such structures on this spot off of Wheatland Road near Charles Town, W.Va., since 1754. The mill was originally built by the Haines family, but was later burned by Gen. David Hunter during the Civil War.
The mill was rebuilt in 1868, but fell victim to another fire in 1937 as Jim Feagans’ great grandfather operated a cutlery and sharpening business in which a spark got into some oily rags and smoldered.
Now the shattered windows and overgrown foliage have taken over the old mill and although the building has been left as it was in 1943, there are new signs of life in the surrounding area. Great-horned owls nest in the sycamore trees surrounding the mill and according to owner Daniel Lutz, he hopes these owls mean something positive.
"Beyond the cedars over there about 500 feet, is the main body of the stream,” Lutz said as he gave a tour of the property.
“The head race up here was all man-made and created, and the mill pond was once larger than it is now because people excavating limestone out of here in the fifties pushed it back. This is the last of eight mills that were on this stream in 1800.”
What's Next for Feagans Mill
As the latest owner of Feagans Mill, Lutz has goals of restoring the historic site back to its original and operable condition as a water-powered grist mill. The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia approved the mill in January as an Endangered Historic Structure, but the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board (JCFPB) rejected the mill’s application for protection.
Lutz estimates he would need about $400,000 to put the mill back into its original operating condition. The 1870 Fritz Wheel made by the Fritz Ironworks Company in Martinsburg, W.Va., is one of the main components in need of restoration.
“The wheel is going to be the last thing that we rebuild and balance because that will be the biggest project which will also have to be with the rebuilding of the head box,” Lutz said.
“The equipment on the inside I’m going to show you: the screeners, cleaners, sifters, and packers. Brian will disassemble those and then refabricate the parts that he needs and where it won’t be visible.”
Lutz said they will probably cheat and use galvanized metal in some places instead of the old sheet steel and iron that was in them to begin with. All the equipment is very close to if not older than 100 years.
Other maintenance needs include the clearing of trees, preserving and securing the federal-style windows, and getting the powder post beetles under control. In doing so, Lutz hopes the site will eventually serve as a backdrop for wedding receptions and reunions. Lutz also remarks that once the mill reaches operable condition, he will be able to market grain production.
“It’s never had genetically modified grain through it, and as long as I’m alive, it won’t,” Lutz said
Lutz has talked with some cousins who have land in the area about raising grain that is not genetically modified to grind in the mill.
The brick annex connected to the mill was once home to its creamery and Lutz has plans to bring it back to its original state as well. The equipment within the mill includes butcher block and stainless steel tables, a Good Housekeeping ice box, meat grinders, and a hand-cranked drill press.
“All of the equipment is essentially in the same position as it was when the mill closed in 1943,” Lutz said. “The grain was offloaded in the basement, in the cellar, came up through these elevators and down into the hoppers. And the elevators are where they stopped in 1943.”
Other Historic Sites in Need of Preservation in West Virginia
Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV), Danielle LaPresta, added six sites to the Endangered Historic Structures list this year which includes an estimated total of 45-50 structures that have been included over the past five years.
The list is a collection of at-risk historic structures that could be lost due to neglect, deterioration, lack of funding, the availability of maintenance, and fires or major storms. LaPresta says the PAWV identifies structures based on their level of endangerment and chances to be lost.
“Some of the advantages are more public awareness and publicity,” she said.
“We are a state-wide organization and we reach outside of the state to people who used to live here but have moved away, so I think there’s the greater notice and publicity.”
PAWV provides support to the local organizations on a case-by-case basis.
In order to be considered for the Endangered Historic Structures list, sites have to be registered on the National Register of Historic Places, have a local support group, and have a reuse plan in place. Other sites on this year’s list are the Old Fayetteville High School and Glen Jean School in Fayette County, Golden Rule in Barbour County, Margaret Mason Weir Memorial Pool in Hancock County and the Kirk’s Building in Wheeling.
LaPresta says Feagans Mill is a particularly important addition to the list.
“The first thing is its historic significance and the fact that it’s one of the oldest mills in the state, and as far as we know, is the oldest mill in the county,” she said.
“The potential reuse of putting it back into service and milling grains there that can be used by farmers around the region, that’s a great use, so we just want to try and provide support and publicity in any way that we can.”
One of Lutz’s main obstacles is getting Jefferson County to grant him the protection to preserve the mill. Lutz also has ideas to turn Feagans Mill into a haunted mill during Halloween and to use the Haines family homestead as a museum to display some of the artifacts that will not be restored and used within the mill.