By Bill Robinson
Both the Miller House and the Old Creamery, demolished Friday, were too unsound to be feasibly preserved, Madison Judge/Executive Kent Clark said Monday.
Although preserving the Miller House, which had been owned for decades by the city of Richmond and then county government, had been talked about for years, no one had ever devised a plan to fund its preservation, he said.
The Madison County Historical Society adopted a resolution Jan. 26 calling for a year’s delay before either the Miller House or the Old Creamery, which the county acquired in an absolute auction Dec. 8, were demolished. But no one from the society had contacted him personally or formally presented that request to him, Clark said.
Even if they had, however, “It was time for those buildings to go,” the judge said.
Four years earlier, when Clark said he agreed to hold off on demolishing the Miller House, members of the historical society promised to begin raising money for its restoration. They were unsuccessful, however.
In the past 20 years, the county had spent at least $70,000 to improve the Miller House, he said. After Judge/Executive Bill Robbins took office in 1990, the county spent $50,000 on the building, Clark said. Another $20,000 was spent in 1995 after he came into office.
The buildings, both close to two centuries old or older, may be gone, but Clark said he believes their exterior architecture can eventually be replicated in future structures where they once stood.
The first opportunity could come in the not-too-distant future, he said, if the county builds a minimum-security facility to house low-level felons.
He and Jailer Doug Thomas have been working with the state Corrections Department on a plan for the county to operate a 100-bed facility for men convicted of Class D felonies who would be eligible for work-release.
The facility would occupy the Miller House’s site next to the detention center with a connector that would allow it to use the jail’s kitchen, Clark said.
If built, the facility would be the answer to several problems, he said. Not only would it replicate the Miller House’s appearance, it would alleviate overcrowding in the jail and provide the county with revenue from housing state prisoners.
Currently, the jail runs an annual deficit of about $1 million, the judge said, although it is paid to house some state prisoners. However, the jail is overcrowded, which has prompted the state to withdraw its prisoners, creating an even greater deficit for the county, Clark said.
The design and specifications of both the Miller House and the Old Creamery were thoroughly documented, including photographs, before they were demolished, the judge said. That will allow their exteriors to be faithfully replicated if new structures are built in their place, as was done with the new family court building on First Street.
Documentation and photographs of the Miller House and the Old Creamery, including brief histories of them, will be published in a booklet that will be sold. Copies will be kept by the Madison County Public Library, Clark said.
The prospects for rebuilding the Old Creamery may be more distant than for the Miller House. In the near term, the property at the corner of First and Irvine may be used for parking, he said.
Clark defended his record on historic preservation, citing three examples associated with the Battle of Richmond, the Palmer House in Battlefield Estates, Pleasant View in Battlefield Park and the Rogers House at the junction of US 25/421 that serves as the Battlefield Visitors Center.
Although the Rogers House was deeded to the county by the federal government, the county obtained a $600,000 grant to restore it as a museum. A $150,000 grant was used to restore the Palmer House, and two grants that totaled nearly $1 million have been obtained for Pleasant View.
A $500,000 grant was used to restore Pleasant View’s exterior, and a $440,000 grant being used for interior restoration required a 20-percent matching grant.
Also, the county paid $1.5 million to purchase 97 acres that surround White Hall State Historic Site, which will prevent encroachment of the state park. The county’s property has been developed as a park.
Also, the county has persuade the state to rebuild White Hall Lane, including a biking/walking trial that will connect with the trail that surrounds the historic site.
Clark noted that he is a fifth-generation Madison Countian who has devoted 20 years of his life to serving as judge/executive. Demolishing the Miller House and the Old Creamery was a not an easy decision, he said, but it is one he believes was best for the county’s future.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.