And the wheel goes round

| 28 Sep 2011 | 03:06

MILFORD - It’s been attacked by Indians, burned down, ravaged by repeated floods and sold to the government for reservoir land, but after 255 years, there is still a mill and a water wheel on the Sawkill at end of East Harford Street. The mill, better known in recent years as the Metz Ice House, is one of those added-on-to, sometimes cobbled, not-really designed, but just built places where people in centuries were too busy doing it, to spend much time planning it. It’s musty smelling 7,000 square feet abound with odd corners, unlikely stairs, strange looking doors, and a pitfall here and there. And it’s become something of an obsession for Milford resident Glenn Sophie. He’s spent the last three years on largely one-man effort to stabilize the old building. A nomination for entry to the National Historic Register, which Sophie hopes will soon be approved, lists the building as being “maintained by the National Park Service.” That’s federal-talk for abandoned for 24 years. “It needs a roof and septic,” said Sophie, who spends most of his days off working at the building. He’s gotten most of the outside wood surfaces painted and most of the cinder block sealed and he’s set up a workshop to rebuild the windows. “The park service doesn’t have any money to do this,” he explained. He’s hoping that the recognition from the historic register will make some bricks-and-mortar money available. Why this place? It’s a combination of things, he said. Living at one time in California, he spent a lot of time at Yosemite National Park and began to feel an obligation to be some part of the conservation effort. Back east, living in the borough, he would walk his dog past the old ice house and it caught his imagination. “Look at the names of the owners. Everyone who was anyone in Milford had something to do with this property,” he said. Before it was Milford, the Wells brothers built the original grain mill at Wells Ferry in 1750. County Historian George Fluhr writes that the Indians took over the mill when settlement was abandoned during the Revolution. Property owners over the years have included Milford’s founder, Judge John Biddis, Henry and Peter Dewitt, John C. Mott, the Klaers, senior and junior. The younger Klaer would become prominent in Milford serving on the borough council, as fire chief and as a school and bank director. Klaer was a cortwright and wheelwright and set the mill to sawing. But it was August Metz who saw a market for man-made ice and set up the equipment to turn out more than a ton daily. Metz, who would go on to serve in state legislature, supplied the local hotels with ice and built on to add cold storage. The family owned the property until it was purchased for the proposed Tock Island Dam flood zone in 1979. It also was Milford’s first electricity provider, Sophie added, powering neighboring homes. He looks at the empty loft above the 1868 portion of the mill building and sees a future meeting room. “I hope that some adaptive reuse can be made of the building,” he said.