Should the historic and iconic Starr’s Mill be turned into public meeting space, perhaps hosting art exhibits and more frequent history tours, or should it be left completely alone as it is now and opened only on rare occasions for Fayette County Historical Society events?
Or perhaps you have other ideas. Now is the time to share those with Fayette County government officials, as they say they are certainly looking to make at least small improvements to the mill- and waterfall-centered property, while they say they want to be sensitive to the will of the people in considering grander ideas.
More than 60 people gathered late Thursday morning and well past noon discussing the possibilities.
Dean Breest, a member of the Fayette Photographic Society and one of the leading volunteers responsible for the recent renovation of Hopeful Primitive Baptist Church, says he and other artists would like to see the historic Starr’s Mill building opened up more frequently and used to exhibit photographic and other artistic works by local artists. He doesn’t stop there. He says he would also like to see a Fayette County welcome center and other amenities located on the 17-acre property, which he says could also be home to a future water department headquarters building.
Breest also noted that Southern Conservation Trust, which manages the City of Fayetteville’s The Ridge Nature Preserve, wants to use Starr’s Mill Pond as an outtake for its canoe trail, which begins further up Whitewater Creek.
Lee Pope, the relatively new Fayette County Water Department director, led Thursday’s meeting, and said he at least wants to see the grounds spruced up, and he nodded along with Breest’s idea to clean up the shoreline of the pond. He also said he agrees the mill building should be opened to the public on a more regular basis.
“All we’re trying to do is make this place a little more accessible to the community,” Pope said. “I think that’s a beautiful thing for us to do here.”
Pope also said he wants to see his department involved with others in taking better care of the Starr’s Mill property, which is actually owned by the county water department.
Pope said he believes the Starr’s Mill site and story will be an important part of young people’s identity as they grow older, and he said he wants to take part in encouraging more historical education.
“Are we instilling history in our kids today?” Pope asked rhetorically. “Probably not like we used to.”
Bobby Kerlin, a sixth-generation Fayette County resident and a noted historian, gave a bit of history about the Starr’s Mill property. The existing mill building, which is the third one known to have been located on that site, was built in 1907, and his family has direct ties to it throughout its history.
“Without the historical society, you wouldn’t even know what this building is about,” Kerlin said, explaining how the group has been involved in preserving the structure. “The historical society and this building are kind of synonymous.”
Kerlin said he was okay with some improvements being made to the grounds, but he said he is adamantly opposed to making any material changes to the mill building itself.
Kerlin’s sentiments seemed to be shared with everyone in attendance, including Breest and other photographers and artists.
Where the opinions differed, it seemed, was on how much else to do with the wider property.
Fayette County Manager Steve Rapson said at the meeting that the county is simply in the input-gathering mode right now, promising that there are no plans at present to make any material changes to the building or to add anything to the property.
Rapson and Pope invited members of the public to contact them through their office to share any input.