Barker Mill: Mill Creek Road, Gladwyne
Constructed in 1814; reconstructed in 1840 and 1895; expanded during the 1920s
The Barker Mill is a historic landmark of undisputed importance. Located in Gladwyne on the banks of Mill Creek, a fast-moving watercourse that once powered an impressive collection of factories, the mill was at the heart of what the Inquirer, in 1880, characterized as “one of the city’s greatest hives of industry.” The sprawling stone and brick building, which helped propel Lower Merion’s early industrial economy, was constructed in 1814 as a gun manufactory for the Nippes family. The mill was reconstructed in 1840 and, for a period, supplied rifles to the Union Army. In 1885, under the ownership of William Booth and Thomas Barker, the mill was fully rebuilt and converted to a carpet yarn factory. More than a quarter of a century later, the building was significantly expanded to meet the increased demand for this product. The mill’s multiple sections reflect changes in its use as well as changes in milling technology.
Although the mill ceased operating as a factory in the mid-1950s, it remained in continuous use during the half century that followed. Its tenants, including business interests and artisans, shared space inside the airy building until 2003, when they were evicted to make way for a residential development that subsequently received township approval. The developers abandoned their plans to rehabilitate the mill, however, and the historic building was vacated, shuttered, and allowed to deteriorate. Deferred maintenance and vandalism have severely compromised the condition of the historic building. As a development property, the Barker Mill presents significant challenges; the site on which the building is located is constricted by a steep hill on one side and Mill Creek on the other side. In addition, sewage infrastructure does not extend to the property and would, therefore, need to be incorporated into a future development plan. The mill, nonetheless, remains an attractive prospect for rehabilitation; it is surrounded by the township’s 103-acre Rolling Hill Park, it is close to Gladwyne’s historic center, and it is convenient to the Schuylkill Expressway. Additionally, the rehabilitation of the mill may present its owner with economic benefits; used as an income-producing property, the building could potentially benefit from tax credits. The donation of a facade easement on the historic mill could also ease its owner’s tax burden.