Saturday, October 17, 2009

Across the River & Up the Hill to Oella Mill

An Artist Remembers
the Past

Oella has an Ellicott City zip code, 21043, but is across the Patapsco River bridge and up Oella Avenue. It is just across from Ellicott City Historic District, the area usually featured in this blog. A recent trip to see the Mill with a friend has resulted in this blog feature.

Once a cotton mill and expanded and altered over time to fit new uses, it was most recently used by artists, craftsmen, and artisans .
I accompanied artist Trudy Babchak, and together, we looked at the mill's rehabbed interior and checked out one residential unit. Her artist’s studio was once in the un-renovated Mill , which was of special interest to me as a retired historic preservation professional. I was involved in crafting the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation that were used to assess the work accomplished for the mill complex as well as rehab projects across the country.

I wanted to know where her artist's studio had been, even though the spaces are very different now with all of the changes inside to accommodate the over 100 apartments. We went to the third floor and she pointed to a door. When I asked Trudy how long she had her studio there, she told me: “I was there from around 1998 to 2002. I left about a year before it was closed down totally.”
Before sharing a few photos I took while walking to the unit we viewed, here is a brief history of Oella Mill, that I found online as part of the rental advertising, then quoted or excerpted.

The Story of Oella: Change Over Time

"Oella embodies the classic American factory town. Named for the first woman to spin cotton in America, Oella has been the site of milling operations since colonial times. In fact, the present red brick structure called Oella Mill is among the newer buildings in town, dating from 1918. Rowhouses built for the millworkers, several sizeable family homes, and the old Oella Methodist Church, now converted to office space, are all of 19th-century vintage. And the original mill race that brought the Patapsco’s waters to work the mill was built in the early 1800s. The 1.75-mile mill race was the longest in America to power a single mill, and, though damaged by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, it still exists today.

The handsome building that stands today as Oella Mill was the William J. Dickey & Sons Textile Mill, which had been built on the ashes of the old Union Manufacturing Company mill, at one time the largest cotton mill in America. Dickey & Sons survived fire and flood and the Great Depression, but it could not overcome the shift to synthetic fabrics in postwar America. The mill had shut down shortly before Agnes hit, and was never to open again. It took the combined efforts of private developers and county, state, and federal agencies over several years to bring new vitality to the historic mill complex.”

Cut to the Present. This short feature concentrates on a look at one apartment and is not designed to give more specific information on pricing, availability, or a comprehensive view of the special features of the complex, such as a library, gym, etc. The overall appearance of the interior is sleek, contemporary...a top-notch rehabilitation utilizing the National Park Service Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit (total cost of the rehab was $5,120,000 with a potential credit of as much as 20% of $4.3 million).

One eerie note from my perspective: We did not see one other human being on the tour in any space other than the Reception Center where the two women who work for Mill unit rental sales were present. They were extremely cordial and answered all of our questions; one of the women, Wendy, took us on the tour.

Here are several views of the one-bedroom unit, overlooking the Patapsco River, with a loft. The rental price for this one is a little over $2, 400 a month. It was indeed lovely. We thanked our guide and left, with a very handsome large-format brochure in hand. If anyone who knows me wants to borrow it, please ask.

View of living room
and looking through
industrial-scaled windows
to trees, with
Patapsco River below.

Looking in to the kitchen space.
The staircase to the right goes
up to a loft, which may be used
as an office or second sleeping space.

Sleek, contemporary kitchen


When we were about to leave, I told Wendy that if the Mill were a hotel and not rental residential, I would want my traveling or visiting friends to stay there and enjoy the history as well as the great new updated and created interior spaces--and, of course, Historic Oella itself!

Blog feature and photos by Kay Weeks;
historic drawings in the public domain.

10.17.09 and updated 10.19.09


Denee Barr Art News and More said...

Enjoyed getting a first-hand look of the re-incarnation of Oella Mill.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the informative post! My fiancee and I are thinking of moving to the area, and were planning to check out Oella Mill. We were wondering if you can suggest any other nearby historic apartments or buildings of a similar quality that we might want to look into?