Group wants barrier to shield mill site

(Original publication: November 22, 2004)

KENT ­ Other than about two centuries, nothing much separates the ruins of Col. Henry Ludington's mill from Interstate 84. A well-tossed cigarette from a tractor-trailer coming off Exit 17 could tumble into the stream that powered the crushing of grain into flour for George Washington's army.

The highway's arrival some three decades ago wiped out the community bearing Ludington's name ­ burying the general store, the post office and a restaurant under four lanes of blacktop. Now, the din of cars and trucks cascades over the mill's stone foundation and a section of pre-interstate Ludingtonville Road that dead-ends in the woods.

"It was quite a little hamlet, quite a little village," said Betty Behr, 72, a lifelong Kent resident.

Behr, a member of the Kent Historical Society, and the group want to stop the sounds of the present from mixing with a slice of the past. The society is working to rebuild the mill into a living-history display. One of the first steps is getting the Town Board to ask the state for a sound barrier along the interstate.

"With the interstate right there, if we have any kind of event, it's going to keep the 21st century away from the site," said Richard Othmer Jr., the society's president.

The state Department of Transportation typically doesn't add sound barriers to a highway unless it's part of a major project, a spokeswoman said. A noise study needs to be done first, and those wanting the barrier should work to find funding, said Colleen McKenna of the state DOT.

"On the whole, the department's policy is not to retrofit a highway unless widening is done," she said.

Ludington and his family lived just north of where the the Hess station is on Route 52 at today's Ludingtonville Road exit. Sybil, the oldest of his 12 children, is known as Putnam County's version of Paul Revere. On an April night in 1777, she rode through the countryside and alerted her father's militia to help defend Danbury, Conn., from the British.

The mill remained a working facility into the last century, producing lumber instead of flour. The building was about 24 by 36 feet, 2 1/2 stories high. Water from the stream fell onto a 10-foot diameter wheel, which turned the gears inside the building. Photographs show a building sheathed in dark clapboards with several white-framed windows.

A fire on the night of Nov. 15, 1972 ­ thought to be arson ­ destroyed the wood building. The Putnam County Historical Society recently had acquired the structure and planned to restore it. Behr used to take Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts through the mill.

"Under the front steps, there was a key that long," she said, holding her hands about 8 inches apart. "It was a beautiful building, and it smelled to high heaven because it was wet and old."

The coming of the interstate realigned Ludingtonville Road slightly south, making it a wide-shouldered byway bisected by a double-yellow line instead of a curving lane. Like the original road's remnant, which slowly is disappearing under brambles and fallen leaves, the mill site is almost invisible to those not in the know.

"I live right up the road. I was cognizant of it, but I never paid attention to it," said Othmer, who joined the society several years ago.

Including the mill's remains, the historical society owns about 3 acres off Route 52. The front of the parcel includes a two-story building that most recently housed a business called the Carmel Camper Barn, which sold pop-up camper trailers and related parts. The society bought that building in 2002 for a local-history museum with a lecture hall.

Othmer said he hoped to begin work on the mill's foundation during the spring. The pavement from the old Ludingtonville Road, once dirt, will be pulled up, he said, in an effort to turn back time.

"From here back," he said, standing by Route 52, "it will be like the 18th century."


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Wednesday, January 5, 2005