Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Large brick building next to water surrounded by trees.

The Gamble on this Mill Paid Off

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The Gamble Mill at 160 Dunlap Street in Bellefonte, Centre County, PA was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 1, 1975, as one of the only remaining grain mills in the county and one with surviving original 18th and 19th century spaces and materials.

As the National Register designation makes the building eligible for the Federal and State Historic Tax Credit programs, the current owners developed a reuse plan to save and rehabilitate the historic Gamble Mill.

About the Mill

Gamble Mill rises three and one-half stories in height and features an impressive, stepped gable with full gabled attic on the north elevation. The building also featured a clerestory hoist way shaft as well as visible traces of a former roofline and brick imprinting that indicates that a gable roof structure was once attached. The mill is located in a perfect site with Spring Creek, a freshwater stream to the west, an early canal terminal for the Bellefonte Branch of the Pennsylvania Canal to the north, and a portion of the mill run just to the south.

The mill’s history extends over 230 years. William Lamb built the water-powered structure in 1786 – before the town of Bellefonte existed – in an area previously called the village of Lamb’s Crossing. Bellefonte’s founders purchased much of Lamb’s property to establish the Borough in 1795.

In 1834, William Ashbridge Thomas purchased the property, and it became known as Thomas Mill. Thomas became a significant role model in Bellefonte’s history as a trusted Underground Railroad agent and holder of the deed to the lot used by Bellefonte’s 160-year-old A.M.E. Church.

1874 Atlas of Centre County, Bellefonte Plate, pages 77-78. Mill marked with red arrow.

Tragically, on May 25, 1892, a fire broke out in a large grain warehouse adjacent to the mill, engulfing two acres of the waterfront area, including the warehouse, a lumberyard, and the historic mill. Despite the fire, the Mill was rebuilt and miraculously was producing flour, feed, and grain again nine months after the raging fire, evidence of the importance of the mill’s production. The Gamble Mill today includes the footprint and south end of the 1786 gristmill and the 1893 Victorian-era structure. George M. Gamble, the mill’s namesake, bought a share in the mill sometime around 1901, eventually became sole owner prior to his retirement in 1923.

Historic photograph of the Gamble Mill.

Like all the other owners of the mill, Gamble was just one of many noteworthy parts in the history of the Bellefonte Flouring Mills, which provided grain for the community and abroad from 1786 to 1947. Of approximately thirty-four mill sites recorded in the Centre County region of Pennsylvania, there are only six which have even a portion of the original mill remaining.

The Gamble Mill is one of the only mills remaining in the immediate Bellefonte area and would not be standing today if Ted H. Conklin did not purchase the property from a beer distributor to save it from possible demolition.

Gamble Mill in the 1970s.

About the Project

Virgilio Investments IV LLC purchased the mill property in 2019 after it had sat vacant for several years.

The $2 million rehabilitation of the vacant Gamble Mill started in 2020 and was designed to retain and highlight the mill’s character-defining features. Exterior work included:

  • preserving the existing brick form and massing, inlcuding the stepped gable parapet;
  • retaining the cast iron star bolts and tie rods, wood trim, and painted “ghost” signage;
  • mainting the existing fenestration pattern, including the unique carriageway entrance;
  • repairing the existing original wood windows and doors and adding new compatible doors and windows to replace non-historic units; and
  • repairing roof of secondary addition.

On the interior, existing spaces were reconfigured for the new building program and new code compliant vertical circulation components were added. Original and historic materials and features such as the exposed heavy wood timber framing, wood flooring, and plaster walls were retained, as was the mill race in it’s existing condition.

Overall, the project moved through design and construction with few hiccups due to the great communication between the project team, PA SHPO and the National Park Service (NPS). NPS’ only concern was the proposed addition of new window units on the mill’s main north elevation gable. The project team was able to demonstrate that the gable as it stands today was non-historic; with that information, NPS determined that the gable could be altered with the proposed window units.

It is expected that project will receive Part 3 certification from NPS in the near future as the completed work met the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The project was also a recipient of a $250,000 PA Historic Preservation Tax Credit.

The Mill Today

Now operating as a small inn with modern suites, a fresh-from-farm restaurant, a craft cocktail bar, an intimate event space and local boutique shop, the Gamble Mill is a central component to the community revitalization and supporting heritage tourism in Bellefonte. This great project will benefit the local residents and attract visitors from far and near.

The Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office is very proud to be a partner in finally moving the once stagnant Mill back to life again and allowing its historic beauty to shine once again for the borough of Bellefonte. A great celebrated steppingstone for the preservation community and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

References

Gamble Mill website: https://www.gamblemillbellefonte.com/

National Register Nomination: Search PA-SHARE for “Gamble Mill”, Resource #1975RE00005.

Historic Tax Credit Applicant: Virgilio Investments IV LLC

Historic Tax Credit Consultants: Albertin Vernon Architecture

Project Architect: Albertin Vernon Architecture

Project Photos: Albertin Vernon Architecture, Glenn Vernon and Claudia Albertin

Historic Photos: Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association

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