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WILLIAMSVILLE TRYING TO SAVE LANDMARK MILL

It survived the War of 1812 and went on to witness almost two centuries of change, from the coming of the first telephone in the tiny Village of Williamsville to the slow crumbling of the mills that once created much prosperity.

Now, the historic Williamsville Water Mill -- the only continuously operating mill left in Western New York -- is in danger of becoming history itself.

Village officials this week announced that they hoped to save the mill from foreclosure by becoming its new owners. "It's pretty exciting," said Williamsville Mayor F. Ray Hazlett.

Hazlett said the village learned in October that the mill -- built in 1811 -- was in financial trouble and that M&T Bank had filed for a public foreclosure sale on Nov. 18.

The mill is a landmark and so much a part of the fabric of the village that it is part of the village seal, he said.

It still grinds various grains and includes a country store/gift shop. But one of the biggest draws is a cider press that produces jugs of fresh cider.

However, it is also a prime piece of property, which was a particular worry, officials said.

Tucked away on a side street in the heart of Williamsville, the mill perches above the gorge of Ellicott Creek and offers sweeping views of Glen Park and its waterfall.

Trustee Mary A. Lowther said officials were concerned that the property would fall into the hands of a developer more interested in building anew than preserving. Although the mill is a local and state landmark, no law would prevent a new owner from demolishing the site entirely, Lowther said.

Shortly after discovering the situation, the village entered into talks with M&T and the mill's owner, Warren Miller, to buy and preserve the property, Hazlett said.

He said they hope to close the deal within the month, and that the Village Board is considering "various preservation and management options," including establishing a not-for-profit foundation to fund and run it.

The board has already agreed to a bond of up to $500,000 for the purchase, although the price is expected to be lower than that, Lowther said.

Hazlett said the impact on taxes hasn't been determined yet, but that the village has received offers of private contributions.

Nor does the village know what the mill might house, assuming the board is successful in buying the property. Already, people have said they'd like to take over the cider operation. There could be offices, as well, Hazlett said.

The mill is of particular interest because the village owes its existence to it. Built by Jonas Williams as a grist mill, it began attracting more and more settlers. By the 1820s and 1830s, the scattering of frontier settlers living in what was known then as Williams Mill had evolved.

Thanks to the power its water provided, the community had become a bustling commercial and industrial center called Williamsville, with 16 or more milling operations.

Over the decades, though, the mills began to close. Some were destroyed by fire, others succumbed to financial problems, Lowther said.

But the Williamsville Mill continued operating under a string of owners and has been in the hands of descendants of Daniel and Grace Niederlander -- including the current owner -- since the couple bought the mill in 1947.

When she was a girl, Lowther recalled, her family made a special trip to the mill to pick up buckwheat for pancakes.

"Now, if you want flour, you go to Wegmans," she said.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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