Until I roamed around Mill No. 1, the old cotton mill in the valley that cuts through the heart of Baltimore, I never enjoyed an inspiring view of the under-appreciated river that runs through it. It’s not something you can see from the nearby expressway or light rail, or from a quick drive along the old Falls Road. You have to get out and have a look.
The Jones Falls is “Baltimore’s other waterfront,” a treasure that deserves greater attention from city officials, preservationists, storm-water engineers and everyone who cares about the quality of life in our city of perpetual recovery.
Long-time developer David Tufaro and his daughter, Jennifer Nolley, gave me a tour of the place on Wednesday.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Mill No. 1 was said to be the world’s largest producer of cotton duck, the base fabric of tents, sails and other items, many of them used by the U.S. military in the two world wars. The Jones Falls valley was the city’s mill corridor, an industrial stretch, and Mill No. 1, built by the Mount Vernon Co. in 1847, was part of that.
It lasted as a textile mill until 1972. After that, Life-Like Products, known for model trains and accessories, moved operations there, and for a time plastic foam coolers and model-train mountains were manufactured in the building.
Over the last three years, Tufaro’s Terra Nova Ventures worked with Alexander Design Studio to turn the place into offices, apartments and, coming soon, Donna Crivello’s new restaurant, Cosima. It’s an exciting example of “adaptive reuse,” and nearly fully occupied with residential and business clients.
If you drive or bike along the old Falls Road, on the backside of Hampden, you’ll see the main brick building that is Mill No. 1, hard by the road.
What you cannot easily see is the Jones Falls below it. There are surprising vistas down there, and they come into full and splendid view as you cross the enclosed bridge that connects the main mill to what’s known as “the 1918 Warehouse concrete building” on the other side of the river.
The concrete building, a corner of which extends over the river, is office space, and there might not be a better corner office anywhere north of Pratt Street. (If you think there is, please send me a photo.)
When Crivello’s restaurant opens in the main mill building, it will have an outdoor seating area that will give diners and wine-sippers a great view of the river. The stone and brick interiors of Cosima are also going to impress customers.
Claudia Diamond is the force behind Friends of the Mill Corridor, the group pushing to clean up and preserve “Baltimore’s backyard.” I’m going to meet her out on the stream soon to record a Roughly Speaking podcast all about the challenges facing the Jones Falls and its grand potential as Baltimore’s other waterfront. Also, Tufaro and Nolley gave me a tour of their latest project, just up Falls Road from Mill No.1. It’s the $22 million Whitehall Mill, another mixed-use reuse along the river. More on that to come.