Fresh use for old mill Cappuccino and clogs: A 19th century cotton mill in Mount Washington is being turned into an upscale shopping center.

April 19, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

In yesterday's editions, the Mount Washington Mill was reported to be the only standing cotton mill in Maryland. In fact, the Savage Mill in Howard County was also a cotton mill.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Under Mount Washington's Kelly Avenue bridge, a 19th century cotton mill is being transformed into a upscale shopping center where consumers can buy cappuccino, gardening clogs and organic mustard greens.

The stone and brick buildings -- the only standing cotton mill in Maryland -- are being converted into Fresh Fields, Baltimore's first natural-foods supermarket; a Starbucks coffee shop and Smith & Hawken, a luxury gardening store that already has opened.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Yesterday, as construction workers were putting the finishing touches on the buildings, a sign painter stood in the bright sun high above the mill buildings, painting "Fresh Fields" in giant blue letters on an old water tank.

The project is opening at a time of burgeoning interest in development in the Mount Washington area.

Just to the west, USF&G Corp. is building a 925-space parking garage to accommodate 750 employees scheduled to move to its Mount Washington campus in the fall.

USF&G also plans to build a conference center and has raised the community's hackles with plans to demolish a 19th century stone building in Mount Washington Village to make way for a 25,000-square-foot office building.

The old cotton mill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, dates to 1811, when it manufactured cotton duck. In 1916, the mill was taken over by Maryland Bolt and Nut Co.

Community leaders say they are excited about the new stores and that they are impressed with the historic preservation. But they also say they are anxious about the traffic the project will bring to the narrow intersection of Smith Avenue and Falls Road.

They hope a new traffic signal will control traffic in and out of Smith Avenue, a narrow, dead-end street in an already congested neighborhood.

"If it wasn't for the traffic, it would have our unqualified support," said Jim Jacobs, president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association.

"We still want economic development to take place. Whatever was going in there would cause traffic problems."

Mr. Jacobs said his community association supported the development only after the city agreed to put in the traffic light when Fresh Fields opens May 22.

Leigh Middleditch, president of the Poplar Hill Association, which represents the neighborhood on the east side of Falls Road, said he was impressed by the "time and effort and thought that went into keeping the original structures and improving on them."

"The flip side of the coin is that I don't think much thought went into the traffic issue. We've always thought there's been a bad traffic problem even before this project," he said.

The traffic signal has been installed as a blinking light and will operate as a regular traffic light when the supermarket opens.

Neighbors have worried about potential traffic problems because the Smith Avenue-Falls Road intersection is the only entrance and exit to a small valley that includes the Northwest Ice Rink, the recently expanded Meadowbrook Swim Club and the post office on Cottonworth Avenue.

A traffic study by the city's Public Works Department in 1992 projected a heavy increase in the number of vehicles going in and out of the enclave, a department spokeswoman said.

Between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., for example, the number of cars driving from Smith Avenue onto Falls Road will increase to 237 from 165 each hour once the mill center is open, the study estimated.

Developer Sam Himmelrich Jr., who bought the 5-acre property in 1989, said of the community's concerns about traffic, "I'm not terribly worried. There's already tremendous traffic traveling through that intersection for the post office and other uses."

A large, gray, stone building on the property that last stored nuts and bolts eventually will be converted into offices, Mr. Himmelrich said.

The Smith & Hawken store, filled with orchids, solid-teak garden furniture and designer birdhouses, opened last week in a building that was once a dye house.

To give the garden shop a rustic look, the store was barely renovated.

The walls have partly exposed brick and crumbling plaster, with only a few newly painted doorways and a new floor. New front doors have been installed with a pitch fork and shovel as the door handles.

The Fresh Fields store, which will sell pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, and hormone-free chicken and beef, has hardwood floors and windows to let natural light into the building.

Joe Dobrow, director of marketing for Fresh Fields, said 40 percent to 50 percent of the produce will be organically grown. A "scratch" bakery will feature breads made without preservatives.

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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