North Leverett sawmill preservation project underway

  • Slarrow Mill on the Sawmill River in North Leverett as seen from the Cave Hill Road bridge. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2023 12:57:42 PM

LEVERETT — A community-led project to preserve and rehabilitate the 263-year-old North Leverett sawmill for future generations, as well as making it an integral part of the community for cultural, educational and recreational activities, is underway.

The Friends of the North Leverett Sawmill, a nonprofit public charity, is in the midst of work to protect the sawmill and its adjacent dam and mill pond, while at the same time making 2.6 acres nearby, containing the stone remains of the 1800s Graves ironworks building and its historic levee, part of a trail system. The trails will include a new pavilion rising on the site of a collapsed sugar house, giving a view of the water coming over the dam.

Treasurer Susan Lynton explains that the Friends are not a foundation or a private group, but a public charity focused on the site at the corner of Cave Hill and North Leverett roads. The charity aims to have a board with 10 directors, and the effort is generating significant interest from neighbors, including the North Leverett Baptist Church. Donations to date total $18,000.

“We want to preserve the sawmill. That’s in our mission statement,” Lynton said.

She adds that there will be input from many people. “It’s important for the community to know we’re working toward community engagement.”

A lot of progress has been made over the past 18 months, since the Select Board rejected the recommendation from an ad hoc committee, formed in 2021, to examine what to do with the property also known as the Slarrow Sawmill and dam. That recommendation was for the town to assume fiscal responsibility, but elected officials declined due to both the potential cost to taxpayers, and the liability associated with the dam.

Following that, the Kirley family, the most recent among a long line of owners, gave the property to the group for charitable purposes to rehabilitate the historic mill built in the 1760s so it could be turned into a living history and technology museum.

Its history is long, with timber first cut before the American Revolution and where the saw carriage handled 42-foot logs used to make ship keels during World War II before closing in the 1990s. The North Leverett mill was the last of 15 functioning mills that once were along the three-mile stretch of the Sawmill River between Lake Wyola in Shutesbury and the Connecticut River. Those in Leverett are either gone or have been turned into private homes.

The sawmill’s prominence in the community includes having its image at the center of the town flag displayed at the State House, and its depiction, along with the historic coke kilns, on the town seal.

Heritage park, nature trail

At Town Meeting in April, voters approved a request for $82,082 in Community Preservation Act money for the Heritage Park and Nature Trail and a notice of intent will be filed with the Conservation Commission to begin work within 200 feet of the river.

In addition to the trails weaving along the Sawmill River and archeological ruins and mill structures, there will be a U.S. Department of Agriculture forest service compliant trail to access the historic levee and other natural woodland trails, informational signs and a parking area.

“The goal here is to get rid of invasive growth and make the trails,” Cynthia Baldwin, a Friends director, said.

Once the site has been rehabilitated and the park has been completed, the building and the trail will allow visitors to explore and be educated about 18th century to 21st century industrial New England.

Other aspects of the plan include a professional assessment of the sawmill for safety and preservation, developing a fundraising plan, amending the historic restriction with Massachusetts Historical Commission to include access through the sawmill to the new park, and writing a conservation restriction on the trail land that could be held by a local land group.

A critical piece is having an operational plan for the property that is financially sustainable, Baldwin said, with estimates that $30,000 a year is needed.

Samuel Black, another Friends director, said minimal changes are anticipated to the sawmill, that the aim is to maintain the aesthetic and learn what the community envisions.

The efforts have also been bolstered through state grants. One is a feasibility grant for $35,000 that will be used to develop the sustainable operational plan that covers ongoing maintenance and expenses, and hiring a design company that will meet with the community to decide how to use the building for cultural and educational purposes.

The other state grant is an $8,000 systems replacement matching grant. State-contracted engineers will assess the structure and all systems need to preserve and maintain the building and the dam. This will give information about the electricity and plumbing needs on site.

Lynton said outreach to various town committees and to residents at events, and regular updates at, are happening.

“We know this is a project that will involve the community,” Lynton said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Valley Advocate Newsletter
Daily Hampshire Gazette Dining & Entertainment


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy