VASSALBORO — The owners of The Olde Mill Place say they are in dire need of more funding after the complex sustained serious damage during a storm last year and racked up over a dozen fire code violations during a recent inspection.

The Vassalboro Mill, located at 934 Main St., was originally built in the 1850s and was one of New England’s largest woolen mills in its heyday. Though the two buildings that comprise The Olde Mill Place have continued to age since the mill ceased operations in the 1950s, they have continually hosted local businesses and community gatherings since.

When local contractor Ray Breton bought the complex in 2010, it was in a state of disrepair. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of nearly 15 years repairing windows, fixing floorboards and turning the mill into a gathering space that draws tens of thousands of visitors each year for everything from the annual Nerd Fest to an indoor bicycle course.

Samantha Lessard stands beside buckets that are set up to catch water from a leaky roof during a tour March 20 in the Thrift Store at The Olde Mill Place in Vassalboro. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Breton says much of his repair work has been undone since a large storm last December tore off parts of the mill’s roof, causing water to leak into each of its four floors every time it’s rained. Breton said last week he’s spent more than $10,000 on tarps, plywood and other temporary repairs in the months since.

“We had hurricane winds, and it got up underneath the roof and pushed everything and pulled it apart,” he said. “Water came on down through the whole building. I hate putting good money into something that’s a waste, but I have to do it because it’s the only way to protect what we have.”

The damage to Vassalboro’s de facto community center was compounded later that month when an inspection by the Office of State Fire Marshal found 18 fire code violations within the mill.


Documents obtained by the Morning Sentinel show investigators found that the main mill building lacks adequate sprinkler systems, smoke alarms, emergency lighting and more. The mill’s stairways are not fire-rated and its fire extinguishers were last maintained in 2018, according to a fire marshal’s report dated Dec. 28.

The report notes that “these violations were also cited on Aug. 20, 2018, by (the Fire Marshal’s) office.”

Breton said the violations and damages have not affected the mill’s safety, noting that the space would not have been allowed to continue operating if it was putting people in danger.

He added that many of the violations have been addressed since the inspection in December, including the installation of handrails in the stairways and smoke alarms throughout the building.

“They come and look for stuff, and a lot of it is minor, like a 3-foot handrail, but we’re getting it done,” Breton said Monday. “But we’re working on the roof first, then we’ll deal with the expensive stuff. Why worry about a sprinkler system if I can’t get a roof on the building?”

The inspection also noted a lack of illuminated emergency exit signs, inadequate lighting in the stairways, and improper permitting for event spaces and dance halls, among other violations within The Olde Mill Place’s main mill building.


A sheet of roofing that blew off the main building of The Olde Mill Place is seen March 20, draped over a catwalk between buildings. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Though efforts are underway to repair both buildings and bring them up to code, Samantha Lessard says the focus is on the first building due to the important role it plays in Vassalboro’s community.

Lessard is a longtime volunteer who helps organize events at the mill, operates the thrift shop in its second floor and helps run the Vassalboro food pantry. She says repair efforts are complicated because much of the materials are original to both buildings.

“Most of the floorboards are original from the 1860s, pretty much all of the bricks in the wall are still original, and were kilned right here in the mill, actually,” she said. “It makes it a little more challenging. Band-Aids have been put on, we’ve got buckets and tarps on each of the floors, and there’s a tarp over most of the roof.”

Lessard estimates that it would cost around $1 million to fully repair storm damage to the mill, not including the cost of bringing the building into compliance with the fire code. She does not anticipate raising those funds any time soon.

“It’s been all these years of trying to fundraise, and basically we’ve just been able to fundraise enough to just maintain and keep putting Band-Aids on,” she said. “We just take it as it comes. Everything costs money.”

Breton said while he has liability insurance, he can’t afford to insure the mill building.


“To do the lower part, I believe I was told that they value that at $10 million or $8 million or something like that,” he said.

Clementine Shorey, 7, front, joins her sister, Evelyn Shorey, 2, and mother, Sunny Shorey, while shopping March 17 at the Thrift Store at The Olde Mill Place in Vassalboro. The trio from Vassalboro visited The Olde Mill Place with James Shorey, who is the girls’ dad and husband to Sunny Shorey. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The high price of repairing the mill is why Lessard donates all of the proceeds from her second-hand store back to the building that houses it. Through community yard sales, special events and acts of charity, Lessard says she’s collected tens of thousands of dollars over the years, all of which has helped fund repairs and upgrades at the mill.

While the mill has survived largely from the support from Vassalboro’s community, Lessard says she and Breton are actively searching for available grants to help raise funds. Both Breton and Lessard say there is no timeline for when either the repair work or fire code updates will be completed.

“It’s a huge community space,” she said. “We’re just trying to keep things as original as we can.”

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