Thanks in part to an Ashlander’s help, the rebuild and restoration of the 1872 Butte Creek Mill is on time and under budget according to Maryanne Pitcher, executive director of the Butte Creek Mill Foundation. Massive 30- and 40-foot fir timbers tower over the footprint of the mill, an exquisite example of timber framing.
“It’s a really important project because it’s preserving the history of timber framing in our area,” explained Ian Dilworth with Treeborn Timbercraft of Ashland. “There are not a lot of structures that are built like this mill was built and are still around, so it’s great to be able to build it back the way it was.”
The Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point was destroyed by fire in December 2015, but some of the foundation structures remain, and some of the old, burned beams were still in place. Dilworth used these old beams to understand how the original timber members were joined together, matching original construction to new work. He examined all of the remaining structure, flagging some beams as too fire-damaged to use and cutting out some of the beams that had rotted out over time. Concrete footings were poured as a base for new posts that would support the floors and roof.
The ground floor of the mill is cut into the hillside along Butte Creek, a rock wall still in place and sturdy. The creek water enters the mill at this level through the mill race and powers a turbine, gears and shafts that move the grinding stone. While the grinding stone is in place on the surface level, it will need extensive restoration. Ground floor beams are 14 by 14 inches, first floor beams are 12 by 12 inches and the upper level beams are 10 by 10. Even the smallest of the Butte Creek Mill beams are huge, and Dilworth’s team spent hours with a broad axe and straight draw shave to replicate the hand-hewn look of the original beams.
Ron Hailicka at Oregon West Lumber Sales in Eagle Point sourced and milled the beams, all Douglas Fir and largely found locally. Hailicka has a reputation for heritage wood work and milled the rare woods used in the restoration of the 1797 frigate the U.S.S. Constitution, known as “Old Ironsides.”
“The main difference between timber frame constructions now and then is power and cranes and other lifting mechanisms. Back then they were using 50-100 guys and had all sorts of techniques of raising timbers with ropes and pulleys,” Dilworth said. “I was able to do most of the raising with three or four guys.”
Ben Hassett, a Kentucky millwright who specializes in the restoration of windmills and gristmills, will be on site in Eagle Point in February and March. Hassett is searching out vintage mill equipment that he can use in the Butte Creek Mill restoration, and will fabricate needed parts he can’t otherwise locate. Hassett will restore the historic mill stone, restore or fabricate shafts, turbine pieces, grain bins. He’ll connect all the parts, restore the mill race and test commercial operation.
“We have a plan of what was historically milled at Butte Creek Mill,” Hassett says. “We’re working backwards from the water turbine and matching that with what was historically there as well as the needs of what a functioning commercially producing mill requires.”
The Butte Creek Mill project is similar to one of Hassett’s earlier projects, the restoration of the 1830 Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
“In terms of square footage of the mill and anticipated production and even milling operations, the Butte Creek Mill will be very similar to the mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee,” Hassett said. “They are very different and distinct mills on opposite sides of the country but in terms of volume, milling heritage they’re very similar. The character is like what Butte Creek Mill is.”
Early planning for the restoration of the Butte Creek Mill involved the Timber Framers Guild. The guild chose the Butte Creek Mill as its 2018 community build but the relationship developed no further than a preliminary site assessment. Instead, Ian Dilworth’s concern, Treeborn Timbercraft, worked on the project.
Dilworth began learning his craft in Pennsylvania 2001, converting historic timber frame barns into houses and went on to do timber framing in Washington and Vermont before coming to Ashland, where he started Treeborn Timbercraft in 2015.
Considered early on in the mill’s restoration was the possible deconstruction, move and re-use of the 1871 Keller Mill in the New Pine Creek area south of Lakeview on the California-Oregon border.
“It turns out that the equipment wasn’t the same sort of equipment we needed for the Butte Creek Mill,” said Sue Kupillas, president of the Butte Creek Mill Foundation. “Dismantling the mill was too expensive, moving it — it just wasn’t practical.”
The restoration of the Butte Creek Mill is expected to be complete mid-2019. Dozens of folks stop by at the Butte Creek Mill every day to watch in amazed anticipation, photograph the construction and ask questions. Sometimes, Ian Dilworth says, they bring cookies.
Maryanne Pitcher, Butte Creek Mill executive director, is glad for the cookies and the community good will the cookies represent. The foundation has raised $1.8 million towards the $2.5 million goal that will put the mill back in operation, create event space and re-open the retail outlet.
“This project would not be happening without the effort of this community,” Pitcher said. “They’ve spoken up and said ‘this is important’ and we are grateful for that — small stuff, big stuff — I’ve never seen a project more supported than this one.”
Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at email@example.com.