Best of Maryland: The Gristmill at Perry Point Maryland VA Medical Center

04/30/2019
By Preservation Maryland

For their restoration and accessibility adaptations to the ca. 1721 Perry Point Gristmill – noted as the oldest historic structure in the portfolio of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs – the Maryland VA Health Care System and Davis Buckley Architects and Planners will be recognized with a Stewardship Award at Preservation Maryland’s annual Best of Maryland Awards this May.

Celebrate with the Best: You are invited to celebrate the Perry Point Gristmill project and all of the remarkable awardees at the Preservation Maryland Best of Maryland Awards on Thursday, May 16, 2019 under the vintage neon lights of Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County! Tickets start at just $20 and include a spin on the historic Dentzel Carousel.

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Submitted by Davis Buckley Architects and Planners

Fronting the Susquehanna River and within the critical area of the Chesapeake Bay, the Perry Point Gristmill is the oldest historic structure in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Constructed in 1721, the gristmill continually operated serving the community of Perry Point until the end of the Civil War, when it was abandoned. Today, the 280-acre Perry Point site serves as a medical rehabilitation facility for Veterans.

In 2010, the Maryland Historic Trust mandated that the VA restore and repurpose the gristmill because it had become an endangered historic structure. The proximity of the gristmill to the river was flooding this historic structure and Native American burial grounds. The Gristmill has been restored and repurposed as a museum that educates visitors about Maryland history and the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At 300 years old, the Gristmill reflects the technology of the 19th century. It was imperative to keep and work with the existing structure, supplementing it with new structural elements where required and leave it exposed as an educational instructional tool. The industrial building’s use was constrained by its integral historic mill framing, heavy mill equipment, inaccessible floor level changes, and severe deterioration. The goal was to overcome these constraints in a sustainable historic manner to provide everyone, including veterans and visitors with disabilities, access to all parts of the historic structure, site, and the view of the Susquehanna River.

Interior of the Perry Point Gristmill, Cecil County, MD. Photo from Davis Buckley Architects and Planners.

Resiliency and sustainability were key design issues given the building’s proximity to the Susquehanna. The lower level of the structure was dry-proofed, reconstructed, and finished with durable materials able to resist floodwater damage. With a Native American burial ground located to the north of the mill, the geo-thermal system is delicately integrated into this important archaeological site without any disturbance. Davis Buckley Architects and Planners consulted with Native American tribes in preparing a Section 106 review for the project.

Accessible design interventions are sympathetic to the historic character of the Mill while providing modern amenities that are usable by all veterans and visitors. The new main entry ramp was designed to encase and preserve the existing historic stone stair while providing a slope that meets the minimum requirements to serve a range of immobility. The new basement ramp from the river was interlaced between the  historic mill framing to connect users to the new elevator. Appropriate interventions were designed to provide wounded and disabled men, women and veterans access to the waters of the Susquehanna River.

The water wheel at the Perry Point gristmill, Cecil Count, MD. Photo by Michael Ventura Photography.

Due to the importance of the structural frame to the building’s historic fabric, care was taken to integrate modern elements into the historic mill. Modern elements and finishes were selected to both differentiate and accentuate these new interventions from historic elements. These interventions included a glass and steel elevator, ramp, and stair. Due to code compliance, the historic mill staircase can no longer be used, but is preserved in-place and displayed through a floor opening covered in glass. Elements such as the windows, roofing, and stonework were restored. Where missing, a new interpretative water wheel was thoughtfully designed and installed.

Visit the Perry Point Veterans Museum at the Grist Mill

Learn more about Davis Buckley ARchitects and Planners

Attend the Best of Maryland Awards

 

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