2020 Award of Excellence: Hockanum Mill

Ken Kaplan, owner
With partners: State of Connecticut (DECD, State Historic Preservation Office); Town of Vernon; Rockville Volunteer Services

The once-bustling 1855 Hockanum Mill, a textile mill that employed hundreds of workers, including immigrants from many nations, had deteriorated into an abandoned eyesore and fire trap. Then local resident Ken Kaplan was inspired to purchase the property, and dive into the years-long job of transforming the mill into an innovative, sustainable mixed-use facility teeming with new life. A high-energy, hard-driving visionary and man of action, Kaplan considers Hockanum Mill his “legacy project” that defines is life’s work and will make a difference in Rockville long after he is gone.

Hockanum Mill is actually a “campus”, with a variety of structures and spaces. Each phase of this complex and dynamic mixed-use redevelopment project required equally complex preservation and adaptive reuse tools and solutions – as well as the vision, drive, and single-mindedness of one property owner. 

  • Phase One (completed) centered around the renovation of a small two-story concrete building to become the home of Kaplan Cycles, a for-profit enterprise that restores classic motorcycles. Kaplan Cycles currently generates over $1 million in revenue per year and employs 20 people. Ken Kaplan’s short-term vision is to grow the business into a $10 million/year operation.
  • Phase Two (completed) was the restoration of the 2nd and 3rd floors of the adjacent mill building, creating the New England Motorcycle Museum, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. The Museum is home to hundreds of classic motorcycles, and Kaplan’s vision is to make it the largest motorcycle museum in the Northeastern United States. And while the Museum is still in its infancy, one look at the guest registry reveals the Museum is already attracting visitors from throughout the U.S. and around the world.
  • Phase Three (in progress) is the renovation of the first floor of the mill building to become a motorcycle-themed restaurant and brew-pub. No surprise: Ken Kaplan has already designed labels for a distinctly Rockville-centric brew!
  • Phases Four, Five, and Six (to come) will turn an outdoor courtyard into a spectacular meeting & event space complete with waterfall; the renovation of a large multi-story building into apartments; and the redevelopment of other buildings in the complex into commercial space and an outdoor entertainment venue.

Check out this video on Hockanum Mill!

How It All Came Together

Mills, common to the Northeast United States, were critical components in Rockville’s history and economic success, as well as to the urban design of downtown. The preservation and adaptive reuse of these mills is challenging and expensive, requiring creative and visionary owners and strong partnerships with numerous public and private sector partners.

The preservation and adaptive reuse of Hockanum Mill required partnerships with the National Park Service, the State of Connecticut, and the Town of Vernon. In a town in which partisan politics have been intense and sometime boisterous, the resurrection of Hockanum Mill has captured the imagination, enthusiasm and support of elected officials and voters alike. “If we want to revive Rockville,” says Kaplan, “we have to put partisan politics aside, rally around the vision, and work together to make it happen.”

During the renovations, Kaplan organized Rockville Volunteer Services, and mobilized a team of community volunteers to conduct weekly sweeps of targeted Rockville streets, buildings and grounds to remove trash and graffiti. Several new events have been held at the Museum, bringing in as many 10,000 visitors.

Each phase of this large and complex redevelopment project is resulting in a win for the community – and we look forward to seeing Ken Kaplan’s vision fully realized!