Buildings and Grounds

2023 Preservation and Upgrades at Old Schwamb Mill

By Robert Tanner, Director

The Schwamb Mill has recently completed two projects. The first, supported by Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, is a structural upgrade to reinforce two roofs and the third floor and rebuild a deteriorated foundation wall. The second, using American Rescue Plan

Act funds (ARPA), is the installation of a supplemental heating system that will allow the Mill to be heated to a comfortable temperature in the winter, and to increase efficiency. 

Structural Project: The nationally-prominent engineering firm Simpson Gumpertz and Heger performed a structural survey of the building and identified several areas of concern. (The same company performed a similar study in 1975 that resulted in a number of upgrades to the structure.) Two roofs needed reinforcement to meet current snow load requirements. Contractor Tibet Construction added 18 foot 2 x 8’s to one roof and six 18 foot LVL beams to another.  They added 15 knee braces to effectively shorten the span of beams supporting the third floor and built a retaining wall in front of a crumbling brick foundation below the basement floor.  The total cost of this project was $30,000.

Heating/Cooling Project: The Mill added two supplemental heating/cooling systems to the two existing systems. A Fujitsu “split” heats and cools the Mill office that is often occupied when the rest of the Mill is unheated. A Carrier 120,000 BTU/hr forced-air gas furnace with 5 ton AC unit will heat and cool the Mill’s performance space more efficiently—and quietly—than the currently-installed “garage” heater. The contractor is Big Deck Construction., The project cost was $49,350, of which ARPA provided $47,000. The funding was administered by the Town of Arlington.

There is a Mill-funded project in process to reduce air infiltration through the 87 windows in the Mill, many of which are original to the 1860’s building.

Previous CPA-funded projects include:

-Preservation of the Mill exterior by replacing deteriorated siding, trim and wooden gutters, and repainting.

-Re-shingling the roof of the Mill’s Barn and sides of Dry House outbuildings.

-Residing and repainting of Barn

-Removal, restoration and replacement of 101 windows in Mill and Barn.

In each of these projects, the Mill specified the highest quality materials, anticipating that the Mill will continue to serve the Town and our many visitors, exhibitors, presenters and performers for many years to come.

Summary: CPA funding (and some donated funding) has allowed the Mill to preserve the entire exterior envelope of the Mill and its two outbuildings, and to reinforce the structure.  The ARPA project will make the Mill more comfortable and useful for events that serve the community.

The Old Schwamb Mill exists as a complex of three buildings (Main Mill Building, the Dryhouse, and the Barn), which utilized water power and steam power more than 100 years ago to manufacture finely crafted natural wood and gilded frames during America’s “Gilded Age.” The Mill is rare as a vernacular architectural survivor, as well as for a collection of preserved and historically significant workplaces and rooms which have maintained continuous industrial operations since 1864.

The Old Schwamb Mill Campus

The Main Building

As an industrial building, the main structure was rebuilt after an 1861 fire destroyed a spice grinding mill and then sat vacant for three years. Charles and Frederick Schwamb purchased the property and started their picture frame business in 1864. The Old Schwamb Mill Museum  contains and protects multiple generations of this family’s tools and machinery. The Main Building of the Old Schwamb Mill was rebuilt on the 200-year-old foundations of glacial boulders that mark the original water powered grist and saw mill. Added were two additional ells, c.1869 and c.1883, to accommodate the growing woodworking business contained principally in this building.

Like other industrial landmarks of its broad, general type (post-and beam framed mill building, formerly water powered, complete with manufactory era machines) the Old Schwamb Mill’s memorable interiors provide visitors with an authentic, frozen in time experience which celebrates the American Industrial Revolution, the enterprise of Civil War era entrepreneurs and employment opportunities for a largely immigrant work force.

The Barn

The Barn building

The Dryhouse

Shaker Workshops retail outlet is located at 18 Mill Lane, next to the Old Schwamb Mill.
The Dryhouse at left