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Save the old mill Williamsville acts wisely to preserve a community icon and a sense of identity

A couple of years ago, preserving an old historic mill in the Village of Williamsville may have seemed -- at least to some concerned that residents would get stuck with the check -- a bit wasteful in the face of possible developer interest in the land. But the mayor and trustees have bolstered their case by securing money toward the project without raising taxes, and by taking the time to get the restoration work done properly.

Village officials are taking on the project one step at a time, with $250,000 in grant money combined with political assistance and $50,000 in aid from both State Sen. Mary Lou Rath of Williamsville and Assemblyman James Hayes of Amherst. Raising a total of about $640,000 to save the old red mill on Spring Street, just off Main Street, will take a combination of creativity and will, but its importance to the village character should not be underestimated.

This particular mill was built in 1811 and has been a landmark familiar to many village families over generations. It is the oldest continuously operating mill in Western New York, and it is on the local, state and national historic registers. It deserves to be restored.

That significance, though, did not stop the mill's fate from becoming a point of contention, because the old mill rests on a prime piece of land and there was potential interest in developing housing on the site. Luckily, the Village Board felt that the landmark mill was important enough to purchase for the community, paying $450,000 for the building.

A report bore out the fact that the building is structurally sound and listed what needs to be done on an immediate basis, which comes to only $18,000. Several safety items can be done by the village's public works department.

As Mayor Mary Lowther put it, restoring the old red mill is absolutely the right thing to do. Going forward, there may be a complete, historic roof replacement, the removal of aluminum siding from a couple of sections and a repainting of the entire building. The village will have the flexibility to stage that work, and will be able to go after additional grants.

Williamsville has taken a good step toward preserving an important piece of history. With a farmers' market being sited in the area every Saturday, as Lowther said, it's another way to keep up awareness of the mill and help make it a destination point good for both businesses and residents.

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