Recipients: CT Trust for Historic Preservation
Partners: CT State Historic Preservation Office

Opportunities & Challenges:

The decline of the state’s industrial economy since the 1970s, and more recent loss of significant mills in our cities and historic industry towns, has been a warning for the need to document and stimulate reuse of the many factories that still exist. Redevelopment of factories is an inherently complex and challenging process, but without reuse, these historic resources will not survive.

Under the direction of the State Historic Preservation Office, Department of Economic and Community Development, and with funding from the Community Investment Act, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation initiated Making Places, a pilot program intended to encourage preservation, facilitate stewardship, and spur redevelopment of mill buildings. The program used grants, professional technical assistance and, at its core, a comprehensive statewide historic resource inventory of industrial sites and company-built communities. These communities, with mills as their
backbone, connect us to our industrial heritage, to the stories of our past, and to new opportunities for Connecticut’s future.

The CT Trust website, Mills: Making Places of Connecticut, formally launched on December 1, 2017, is the culmination of that inventory, and an element of the Trust’s core educational mission to promote public appreciation of historic places. Its structure was shaped by lessons learned about what it takes to succeed in redeveloping this challenging property type through interactions with grant and technical assistance applicants. CT Trust incorporated developers as a target audience and sought to de-mystify the redevelopment process by providing practical information about tax credits and other incentives, environmental support, and funding sources.

Highlights:

Mills: Making Places of Connecticut offers ways to explore the results of the survey by location and a variety of parameters such as manufacturer, construction, uses and historical designation. Information found within resource records and links to industrial collections in museums and historical societies help deepen the public’s understanding of how these places were used, what they made and who worked there. The layering in of company-built housing associated with many mills puts the property type in a broader social context. Current uses and links to assessor records, mill redevelopment case studies, incentives and resources are tailored to the needs of functionally obsolete and underutilized resources, and provide practical information for public economic development professionals, architects and developers. The portal “Experience CT Mills” guides the public to explore these buildings in person by identifying and linking with retail shops, restaurants, fitness and artist studios in former industrial buildings.

The website, and the database at its core, is an exercise in 21st century cultural stewardship, exceptional in the way it combines and makes accessible, in one place, identification and documentation of a specific historic property type, across the entire state, with land use data useful to preservation-minded developers, perhaps for the first time in a historic resource inventory. The creation of many formats and features of the database and website was a direct result of interactions with brokers and developers seeking mill redevelopment opportunities, with owners looking for resources to help their stewardship efforts, with staff at the State Historic Preservation Office, and with preservation professionals.

Outcome & Impact

The Connecticut Mills website had a “soft launch” on November 1, 2017. In the first month, the site had 383 users, 587 active sessions and 6,779 page views. Following the formal press release in early December, the number of users doubled to 788 with 1,025 active sessions and 6,036 page views. The website is not only popular in Connecticut, it has been accessed in 37 states across America.

It may be too soon to understand the ways in which the website impacts our neighborhoods and communities, but the CT Trust hopes that it spurs future research, nominations to the State/National Register, and the reuse of factory buildings whether for mixed uses, housing, commercial space or tomorrow’s manufacturers. CT Trust staff will seek to keep current the functional aspects of the site to maintain its relevance and utility to cultural stewardship.

What’s Next

The CT Trust is seeking to further stewardship of our state’s mills and factories. With support, the Trust intends to maintain, update and refine this web-based tool, adding additional historical background, data such as square footage, and information about industrial properties on the market. As the Trust expands and strengthens its network of owners, developers, brokers and municipal professionals, it hopes the website will also be a point of entry for those seeking to learn more about and find new uses for the many mills whose full potential has not been met since their last days of robust industry.