200-year-old Roxbury Mill crumbling into history

August 04, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Roxbury Mill. A familiar road name to most longtime west county residents, but the actual 200-year-old stone and wood building could well be lost to history.

Nearly swallowed by thick woods and underbrush, the two-story building looks as if a bomb had exploded inside. Wooden planks jut outward where the wall ends abruptly under rotting, moss-covered wooden rafters -- exposed for more than a decade after a storm peeled up a section of corrugated metal roof.

"It's such a shame, because it was an operating mill in '58," said Jack Cremeans, whose 1820s farmhouse overlooks the wooded mill property.

The mill, at Cattail Creek on Roxbury Mill Road off Route 97, was started in the late 1700s by Capt. Philemon Dorsey and was partly built when Dorsey sold the property in 1791. In 1922, the property was bought by Raymond L. Smallwood Sr., who ran the mill until his death in 1958, his son, Raymond L. Smallwood Jr., said.

His widow, Irene, who died in 1992, decided she could not afford to donate the property to the Maryland Historical Society, so she sold it to Shelley A. Grover of Silver Spring.

"I bought it because I thought it was a very romantic and beautiful place, and it reminded me a lot of [Percy Bysshe] Shelley's poetry," he said.

But poetry is far from what Mr. Smallwood sees in the mill today.

"He promised to restore it, he never did a thing. He let it go to pot. I mean, literally go to pot. It's almost beyond restoring now," said Mr. Smallwood, who worked the mill with his father.

Historian Joetta Cramm, who includes the mill on her periodic bus tour of Howard County, said she was disappointed to see the county's last grain mill deteriorate.

She said that about seven years ago, she, County Councilman Charles C. Feaga and some people interested in restoring the mill visited the site, "but we could never get the owner of the property to cooperate or show any interest."

Mr. Grover, 70, said he had hoped to get a grant from the county or state government to help fix the place, but officials would not help him. A hip fracture made it impossible for him to take any action since then, he said.

Now he said he plans to start a nonprofit corporation to rebuild the mill and try to get state financial aid.

But Susan Herder, who has lived for 18 years uphill from the mill, said she has trouble believing that something will be done.

"It was in good shape when I moved here -- all of the things were still in the mill. The millstones were there, the gears were there. . . . It was in pretty good shape," she said.

"People have pillaged it over the years," Ms. Herder said.

Large pulleys are still visible through the huge hole in the building, and Mr. Smallwood believes some machinery from the top floor may have fallen into the basement.

A large stack of used cinder blocks sits near the road, left over from a short-lived effort to restore the structure.

Now, Ms. Cremeans said, the mill property has degenerated further.

"I have seen trucks go there, and they appear to be dumping things," she said.

A year ago, county building authorities told Mr. Grover to either tear down or stabilize the structure.

To deal with similar situations in the future, Ms. Cramm said, "what they need is some kind of legislation that prohibits demolition by neglect."

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