Historic Savage Mill celebrates its bicentennial

Howard County Times
Happy birthday, Savage Mill!

On the rapids of the Little Patuxent River in southern Howard County, a cluster of 15 renovated buildings at Savage Mill brings the industrial 19th century into present-day focus.

Currently owned and managed by Jay Winer, of A. J. Properties, Savage Mill came into being as a cotton factory in 1816, and Savage was founded as its company town. Today, the mill is a popular tourist destination and home to a unique community of artists, antique shops, places to eat and services.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, the marketplace will commemorate Savage Mill's 200th "birthday" in a bicentennial celebration, broadcasting live on WWMX-106.5FM outside of the New Weave Building beginning at 10 a.m.

Mill marketing and operations manager Aimee Troglio said roughly $9,000 has gone into promoting and planning a full day of special ceremonies, demonstrations, entertainment, tours and promotions, and the first 100 visitors will receive a free gift.

"Historic Savage Mill is a unique shopping destination teeming with history in a modern-day setting; we're proud to be celebrating 200 years," Troglio said.

Savage Mill actually dates to 1810, when brothers Nathanael F. Williams, Amos Adams Williams, Cumberland Dugan Williams and George Williams began construction of the carding and spinning building.

The three-story rock and mortar mill was completed in 1816 (Nathanael Williams served in the War of 1812 while it was underway). Raw cotton was brought in by carts pulled by oxen, horses and donkeys. The mill began producing cotton duck (canvas), harnessing its power from the Little and Middle Patuxent rivers.

The Williams named the mill and the town to honor a banker from Philadelphia, who loaned the brothers money to modernize in 1822. The mill became chartered as the Savage Mill Manufacturing Company that year.

John Savage II (1790-1831), for whom the mill and the town were named, never came to Savage, according to mill historian and tour guide Marty Schoppert.

By 1825, 200 men, women and children worked at the factory, which included 120 power looms, a gristmill, an iron foundry and a machine shop.

Nearby in Laurel, a grist mill built in 1811 became Laurel Mill, a cotton mill that employed 700 workers by the 1840s.

The Williams Brothers owned and operated the Savage Mill Manufacturing Company until 1859, when they sold it at auction to William Baldwin Jr., a cotton miller from Baltimore.

Brick and wood homes were built for mill workers in Savage during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Schoppert said. According to the mill's website, the brick tenant houses on Baltimore Street were built by the Baldwin family during the Civil War.

Savage Mill underwent two major modernizations under the Baldwin family's ownership, which stretched from 1859 to 1947. In 1881, they expanded the space and converted the mill to steam power. In 1915, Baldwin's heirs expanded again and converted the mill to electric power while retaining steam for heat, and the mill began supplying electricity to the mill workers living in the town, Schoppert said.

During the cotton industry's heyday, the mill supplied canvas products at home and to the U.S. military in World War I and World War II.

In 1887, the Baltimore & Ohio railroad built a spur to the mill and moved the Bollman Truss Bridge to the Little Patuxent River's north bank. The bridge was used until the cotton mill closed in 1947. Restored in 1966, today the National Historic Landmark, the only surviving example of a Bollman Truss Bridge, carries foot traffic along Howard County Recreation and Parks' Savage Mill Trail across the river to the Savage Mill complex.

Santa's circus

The market for canvas collapsed after World War II, and in 1947, Savage Mill closed and was sold for $450,000. The new owner, Harry "Santa" Heim, named his company Santa Novelties and went bankrupt trying to convert the town into a Christmas Wonderland tourist spot.

Heim's Santa Novelties manufactured Christmas ornaments at the former mill for several years, and Heim decked the halls for Christmas year round. He dressed as Santa daily and in 1948 created a display village featuring live reindeer.

The New Weave Building was the only location that departed from the Christmas theme; Heim presented a one-ring circus there with two live elephants.

Heim also built a turreted castle (no longer standing) on the corner of Gorman Road and Route 1. He employed 400 workers, who produced 65 million Christmas globes over the span of the business. Heim also attempted, unsuccessfully, to change the name of Savage to Santa Heim.

Plans for a hotel and a man-made lake and waterfall went unfulfilled. Santa Novelties went out of business in 1950, and the mill changed hands again that year.

Mill to marketplace

In a history Schoppert wrote for his tours, "Historic Savage Mill, A Brief History," he writes that brothers Samuel, Hyman, Ephraim and Albert Winer purchased the mill in 1950 to use as a warehouse for their Odenton plastics company but were "men of vision," who began repurposing the property for shopping and office space a little more than a decade later.

In his book, Schoppert writes that the Winers insisted on retaining the mill's original architectural details during renovations.

The buildings are named for the mill work undertaken in each one: Carding, Spinning, New Weave, Old Weave and Cotton Shed. In the Spinning Building, for example, industrial machines processed thread for the looms.

By the early 1970s, the Winers were earning extra income from leasing space to antique dealers and artists.

The mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, largely through the efforts of current owner Jay Winer, the son of Albert Winer. In 1984, Winer bought the mill from the family and began what would eventually be a $12 million renovation project to establish the 175,000-square-foot complex as a permanent marketplace known as Historic Savage Mill.

In 1991, a third phase of the renovation project began with part of the financing coming from a $900,000 loan from Howard County. Each of the mill's buildings were overhauled and in 1992 The Great Room, a banquet facility, opened in the Old Weave Building.

The mill struggled financially in 1994 and was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. However, two months after the filing, the mill owners completed a reorganization and the bankruptcy case was dismissed.

In a 1997 interview, the mill's manager, Steve Adler, said the occupancy rate of the complex had risen to 98 percent, which brought an uptick in the number of shoppers.

Bonaparte Breads opened a bakery and cafe at the mill in 1997, and, in 1999, Rams Head Tavern opened a four-story restaurant with a deck overlooking the Little Patuxent River.

In 2001, Adler and Winer paid off the county's $900,000 loan, and the mill had become home to two restaurants, a banquet room, artists studios and 60 retail shops.

The Carding Building, the mill's original building, now stands five stories tall; two brick stories were added during the first modernization in 1822.

The mill today is home to a large antiques center, specialty shops and business offices for attorneys, architects, accountants and contractors.

Inside, even the lovely polished wood floor, which Schoppert said is mostly original, is rife with lore. Visitors can find embedded fragments of metal dropped by children delivering small parts by cart as they hustled between machinery.

"I have a great deal of admiration for Jay [Winer]," Schoppert said. "It has been through his dedication that an important 19th- and early 20th-century industrial landmark in Maryland has become a thriving commercial success today."

For a virtual tour of Savage Mill and the historic town of Savage, go to savagemill.com.

Bicentennial celebration

Saturday, Sept. 17 at Savage Mill, 8600 Foundry St.

10 a.m.- 2 p.m.: Live broadcast, WWMX-106.5FM, outside the New Weave Building

noon-3 p.m., on the hour: Free costumed heritage tours by Marty Schoppert (near Cherie Amour, Old Weave Building), Laura O'Donnell (near the eatery, New Weave Building) and Todd Sauter (Paymaster's Office)

noon-4 p.m.: Dulcimer performance by Donna Nomick, New Weave Building; Colonial troubadours with lutes and whistles, Old Weave Building; spinning/weaving demos by WGGB Weavers Guild of Greater Baltimore, New Weave and Old Weave buildings; spinning demos by Moon Spinners, New Weave and Old Weave buildings

1 p.m.: Civil War author Gene Barr, Books With A Past, New Weave Building

2 p.m.: Bicentennial plaque dedication, New Weave Building, west end entrance

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