By Deb Everts
Restoration of the historic Red House sawmill has resumed.
In cooperation with park management, the Friends of Allegany State Park (FOASP) and other volunteers took on the task of gutting the old mill on Aug. 3.
Approximately 43 volunteers pitched in to tear out the wood wallboards and floorboards that had been badly damaged by porcupines over the years.
Paul Crawford, FOASP president, said the job was finished in about two-and-a-half hours. He said it was a very good turnout and John Marino of J-Conn Concessions personally delivered eight pizzas and enough beverages to feed the hungry crew.
According to Crawford, the prickly rodents were trying to get salt out of the lumber. He said they’d eaten everything, chewing up floorboards, wallboards and even climbing the walls to chew other areas. He said probably over two-thirds of the boards had to be removed.
“You would not believe the damage,” he said. “The porcupines chewed holes through the boards all throughout the mill, and every room has extensive damage from them.”
Crawford said FOASP has ordered new wood from Kurtz Lumber in Randolph that will be cut, kiln-dried and ready for pick up in September or October. He said they currently have enough lumber to replace the floorboards and that will be a good start.
“Kurtz Lumber will be milling historically authentic lumber, reproductions if you will, of the wood we are stripping out of the old sawmill,” he said. “It’s tongue and groove larch that was recommended by a park carpenter.”
After years of porcupines, raccoons, bats and other vermin inhabiting the building, the excrement made it unsafe for anyone to go inside. Crawford said before park employees and volunteers were allowed in the mill, New-Sense Wildlife Management of Franklinville was called in to remediate the years of excrement.
Once the excrement was removed and the building was sanitized, park employees began making interior and structural repairs. Crawford said they replaced rotting structural members on the front loading dock and in the back of the building due to leaks in the roof, then patched the roof.
He said they removed the organic debris at the bottom of the cement float pond and will shore up the original walls. They also wired the building upstairs and downstairs for future interactive kiosks.
The goal is for the historic sawmill to be repaired, so it can offer interpretive tours to the public. The mill is hoped to be a future destination for visitors to learn about its history and how lumber was processed long ago at the park.
Located off ASP Route 1, the sawmill began operations in 1947, replacing the previous park mill once located on Stoddard Creek. The mill was shuttered in 1997 and sat untouched until 2016.
According to park staff, the Red House sawmill is one of the very few steam-powered sawmills that are still relatively intact. It included a cement-lined log pond heated by a steam engine that allowed logs to be cleaned before processing during the cold winter months.
In past years, the mill was originally operated on a limited basis to help fill some of the in-house needs for lumber to repair and maintain the many buildings and structures in the Allegany Region, especially with Allegany State Park being the largest state park in New York.
Crawford said he’s done four years of extensive research and has been in the process of interviewing and videotaping past mill employees since 2016. He has also received photo submissions from people who were at the mill while it was in operation. All this will provide valuable information for the kiosks.
“Now we are on track and can move forward. We have a game plan for, hopefully, a soft opening for Allegany State Park’s 100th anniversary in 2021,” he said. “It’ll be an ongoing project for quite some time, but we will work on getting it ‘up to snuff’ so people can tour it safely.”
The next step, according to Crawford, will be a grant for interpretive kiosks so visitors can do self-guided tours. He said the most recent grant was $10,625, which was an 85-percent match with 15-percent matching funds from the Friends group.
“We have a nice relationship with the Parks and Trails New York, which is the organization in Albany that backs the 122 Friends groups throughout New York State,” he said. “Members Sandy Boczar and Nick Zarillo regularly represent our Friends group in Albany and Auburn. The people in Albany told them that the Friends of Allegany State Park was exemplary for Friends groups in New York State.”
The “Save the Red House Sawmill” Raffle continues on. Now in its fourth year, the fundraiser helps to cover the cost of renovations of this historic steam-powered sawmill. Crawford said the fundraiser has raised at least $6,000 to $8,000, so far.
The winner of the First Prize gets a 3-night stay at a Bova Cottage, Dec. 6-9, 2019, courtesy of Allegany Partners LLC. Second Prize is a $50 Gift Certificate for the park shops, courtesy of J-Con Concessions. Third Prize is a $50 Gift Certificate for the Park Restaurant, courtesy of J-Con Concessions. Fourth Prize is a Gift Certificate for two, for an all-day kayak rental, courtesy of J-Con Concessions.
Tickets for the raffle are available at the Red House Gift Shop and Quaker General Store. The drawing will take place on National Public Lands Day, Sept. 28. Donations are accepted at friendsofallegany.com, via PayPal.
Find out more about FOASP at friendsofallegany.com. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.