Family restores historic mill site

Owners turn Roop estate into an inn, tourist locale

February 01, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A 19th-century grain mill business that was once a center of commerce in Westminster could soon become a center of hospitality in the Carroll County seat.

Idle for more than 60 years, Roop's Mill - a sprawling property with a four-story granary, two houses, a barn and several small outbuildings - was owned and operated by seven generations of a Carroll County family. Jack Cugle - who calls himself "the first non-Roop to own the property since 1745" - will open a bed-and-breakfast inn this spring in the first building he has remodeled.

And he's just getting started.

Cugle has added a spacious, elegant ballroom to the back of the Civil War-era brick home that he has remodeled and turned into an inn with a bridal suite and three other bedrooms with baths. He has landscaped the grounds with brick pathways and gazebos, anticipating outdoor weddings and family reunions. He is taking reservations for spring and summer events and wishing he had "a year of weekends," he said.

Cugle bought the 91-acre property four years ago and successfully petitioned to have it annexed into the city of Westminster two years ago. He kept 40 acres for his business venture and sold the remaining land to residential developers.

The mill and the surrounding buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places last year.

"This property stands alone on the national register," said Barbara Lilly, director of the Historical Society of Carroll County, a group that recently celebrated the county's 167th birthday at the mill. "That says that it is important enough to preserve its roots and connections to the past for the public good. It is of great significance to the county and state, as it tells the history of agriculture and commerce."

Cugle easily recites the historical aspects of Roop's Mill.

"The history here is incredible," he said. "The mill predates the Revolutionary War. One house was built in 1795 and the other in 1860. There is even a bridge patterned after the Brooklyn Bridge."

And history is a draw.

"History absolutely attracts visitors," said Mary Jo McCulloch, president of the Maryland Tourism Council. "There is a large population that enjoys traveling to study history. And many of them like the intimacy and the amenities of a bed and breakfast."

One of the biggest draws could be the bridge, tourism experts said.

About 1860, the Roops built a 240-foot-long iron suspension bridge between two hills to avoid wading into the meandering Meadow Branch stream that runs through the property. The three stone piers, each about 20 feet tall, are intact, although the walkway is too dilapidated for crossing.

But it's fixable, Cugle said.

"I drove past here forever wondering about that bridge," said Cugle, a Hampstead resident. "Now, I own it. People still pull in here from the highway and ask about it."

He has a few more pressing projects on the property, but he intends to tackle the bridge.

"The Roops were engineers by trade, and they wanted to build things," he said. "This property was quite the center of commerce for years and years."

Barbara Beverungen, Carroll County director of tourism, was among Cugle's first guests. She scheduled a Christmas luncheon for her staff in the dining room, which is decorated with a mural of the mill in its heyday.

"The setting was intimate with all the real [china and silver]," she said. "This is a wonderful addition to our B&B mix with a wonderful history to offer guests. And it is easy to get to."

Years before there was a Route 140, the mill sat on a road once known as Westminster Turnpike. In addition to grinding flour and running a sawmill and a cider press, the miller would collect a 3-cent toll from travelers every day but Sunday, when passage was free.

The buildings on the property, abandoned for decades, have fallen into disrepair. During what he hopes is "a historically accurate" restoration, Cugle is saving everything, even the handmade nails, and reusing as much as possible. He has analyzed the mortar, scraped the paint on the walls to the original colors and researched the layers on the floors - all with an eye to authenticity.

Many original light fixtures remain and most window panes have intact wavy glass. Although Cugle is hesitant to disturb the stairway, he is certain the family followed tradition and placed the deed in the post. The bottom step on the back stairway lifts open to allow the storage of a gun, a practice started during the Civil War.

The beams from the attic had to be removed for insulation, but Cugle found a place for them as a backdrop to the bar in the new ballroom. The cast-iron coal stoves won't heat the building, but they will sit in several fireplaces. During work around the foundation, Cugle unearthed a brick cistern that will eventually hold a fountain and maybe goldfish.

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