Originally created 04/13/02

Old mill becomes new homes

Editor's note: Not every local site is golf-related. This week we profile the secret places Augustans show guests when they come to town.

Families that toiled for generations at Enterprise Mill cried when the mammoth factory shut its doors for the last time March 25, 1983.

For many, the idling of 908 mechanized looms - and the eerie silence that followed - was like losing the pulse and heartbeat of a cherished friend.

The Enterprise, built in 1881, operated round-the-clock for more than a century, closing only briefly at Christmas and on the Fourth of July. Its demise was yet another casualty in a declining textile market.

Employees scattered in search of jobs elsewhere, leaving behind the decaying shell once regarded as a bellwether of Augusta's industrial might.

Two decades later, after a lapse into decay, the ornate brick building once again thrives - reincarnated into a mixture of apartments, offices and restored remnants of local history.

Clay Boardman, an Augusta businessman who bought the 12-acre mill and funneled $20 million into its renovation, remembers the skepticism that emerged when he voiced intentions of saving the Enterprise.

"It was a long shot, but just the fact that it was a cornerstone of downtown made it worth saving," he said. "It was such a huge sore spot in such an important location."

For Mr. Boardman, the dilapidation that followed the mill's closure prodded him into a near-impossible task.

Today, prosperity has returned to the Enterprise: There are 56 apartments - 236,000 square feet overall - and offices, a sandwich shop and exhibits.

And it's only the beginning.

The Augusta Canal Authority is working on a major visitors center that will be completed in April 2003, said Dayton Sherrouse, the authority's director.

The first floor will include a theater, historical artifacts and interpretive exhibits. Plans are under way for tour boats that will dock at the site between cruises.

The mill's vintage hydropower turbines that once harnessed canal water to power looms are again generating electricity - this time in quantities sufficient to power the entire building.

"There is a lot of history in this building, and there will be a lot to see this time next year," Mr. Sherrouse said, gesturing across a room filled with artifacts related to the mill's past.

The Enterprise complex also includes a building called Granite Mill, the only remaining structure from the array of factories built along the canal banks after the waterway was built in 1845.

That mill was run by James Coleman and by Benjamin Warren, one of the canal's original contractors and later a judge. Granite Mill opened in 1848 and doubled in size in the 1850s. It served the Enterprise as a warehouse.

Mr. Boardman said he is delighted to have been able to resurrect the old building.

"This was a chance to do something big, in a visible spot, and to make, hopefully, a difference in this community," he said. "It was fun to do, and I'd love to do it again. But I'd let somebody else pay for it."

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.


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