Three decades of state government neglect and unkept promises are finally ending for Jerusalem Mill, a pre-Revolutionary War mill on the Gunpowder River and one of the few relics of its era still standing.
In 1961, when the state bought the mill and land along Jerusalem Road at the Baltimore County-Harford County border, then-Gov. J. Millard Tawes promised that "the state will restore the mill as part of the park plan."
Five governors and 31 years later, the General Assembly on Friday approved $773,000 in the capital budget for the first phase of a two-year project to restore the 1772 mill.
The total cost of restoration is $1.7 million, but Baltimore and Harford counties will each contribute $100,000, bringing the state's net cost to $1.5 million.
The renovated building, which will house a visitors center and a museum depicting the mill's history, will also become the new headquarters for Gunpowder Falls State Park.
Moving the park headquarters to the restored mill will eliminate the need for a proposed $3 million new park headquarters off Harford Road, saving the state $1.5 million, officials said.
The mill is so dilapidated that only the heavy cables and steel beams the state had installed in the late 1980s for stabilization are holding it up.
Sections of the stone walls on the ground and first floors have collapsed, leaving heaps of stones scattered around the property.
Money to preserve the mill was requested from Annapolis every year, but "year after year it got bumped," said Earl Copenhaver, park manager.
"I'm excited and happy about" the General Assembly's decision to allocate enough money to restore the mill, he said. "It's long overdue."
If any one person can be credited with saving Jerusalem Mill, it is Harry J. Sanders, 51, a Harford County teacher who in 1984 organized Friends of Jerusalem Mill, a community volunteer group, and launched a campaign to preserve the historic structure.
After the stabilization work was done, and no moves toward restoration came, Mr. Sanders realized that the deterioration would lead inexorably to complete ruin. He proposed that the mill be rebuilt as park headquarters and state officials accepted the idea.
"The solution saved an historical resource and met an operational need," said Michael J. Nelson, deputy secretary of natural resources for public lands.
"The Department of Natural Resources considers it one of the most historic structures which exists on park land." The money will be available July 1, Mr. Nelson said.
The project will preserve the stone foundation, the facing stones and some of the big, interior timbers so that the rebuilt mill will look just like the original. But the wooden superstructure of the upper three floors and the loft will be replicated with new material, Mr. Nelson said.
Mr. Sanders, who grew up playing around Jerusalem Mill and whose house lies within sight of it, said that if the state had acted sooner, the original mill building could have been saved. "But, they [state lawmakers] let it go too long. . . . there just wasn't enough good stuff left [to be able to save it]."
"I'd rather have a replica than nothing at all," Mr. Sanders said, adding that rebuilt structures and originals are mixed in the Williamsburg restoration.
When the mill was built 220 years ago on the east bank of the Gunpowder River, it was in Baltimore County. But in 1773 it became part of Harford County, which was created that year with the river as a boundary.
This year, however, Jerusalem Mill returned to Baltimore County -- politically -- as part of the newly drawn 6th Legislative District, and its restoration drew support from the district's delegation.
Del. E. Farrell Maddox, leader of the county's House delegation, said, "I think it's a great project. I've tried to work with the community as much as I can."
State Sen. William H. Amoss, a Harford County Democrat who has been a longtime proponent of the mill project, said Gov. William Donald Schaefer backed the project because Harford and Baltimore counties are contributing money and because the Friends of Jerusalem Mill has worked so hard to preserve it.
Mr. Schaefer's support helped put the idea high on the priority list this year, he said.
David Lee, a Pennsylvania Quaker who built Jerusalem Mill, was a major entrepreneur in his small Harford County community. He was a merchant miller wealthy enough to buy grain and grind it for sale rather than simply grinding for farmers in exchange for a share.
Mr. Lee lived in a mansion near the mill, which still stands.
A small stone building behind the mill was used to make muskets during the Revolution.
Because Quakers are pacifists by creed, Mr. Lee's arms-making drew him a reprimand in 1776 from the Fallston Friends Meeting. Mr. Sanders defended the miller, saying, "David Lee had a
contract to assemble the muskets for the militia. He was a patriot first."
Volunteers have spent more than $15,000 restoring that tiny stone building. It sports new windows and a new cedar-shake roof, and the stonework has been spruced up. Since 1984, Mr. Sanders estimates, the Friends of Jerusalem Mill "have spent at least $500,000 in manpower and material on the mill."
Mr. Amoss praised the work of the volunteer group in pushing the mill project to fruition this year. But he added, "You shouldn't have to fight this hard for it."