Decision to demolish Huntley mill draws ire

HUNTLEY – Village officials and local historians will work together to preserve original items such as grain bins and structural beams that still are inside a former 19th century mill recently slated to be demolished.

Relations between the two parties are rocky, however, after the Village Board decided last week to raze the former Sawyer-Kelley mill in downtown Huntley and build a $1.01 million commercial space in its place.

The move has left the leader of a Huntley historical panel disappointed and concerned that the village’s priorities for revitalizing downtown Huntley don’t include historic preservation.

“It’s the last mill in Huntley,” said Donna Britton, chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission. “Our village was ­founded on agriculture. Without mills, they would have never had lived. Without agriculture, our town would never had been formed.”

Local historians lodged similar complaints in 2010 when the former Marlowe Feed and Hatchery building, historically used as a mill, fell victim to demolition crews.

Built in the 1890s, the Sawyer-Kelley mill at 11801 Main St. originally belonged to W.G. Sawyer and John Kelley, two local businessmen who helped develop the village in the late 1800s.

Village Manager Dave Johnson countered criticisms that officials are disinterested in preserving Huntley’s agrarian roots during the ongoing effort to spruce up the look of the downtown.

Officials already have started design work on preserving the former Hackett House, a historical two-story hotel for railroad visitors that the village acquired earlier this year.

The village also opted to lease and renovate the old downtown Village Hall – built in 1939 – to the Huntley Chamber of Commerce in 2011, nearly five years after officials moved to a new building farther east along Main Street.

When planning for the downtown overhaul in 2010, officials identified the Sawyer-Kelley mill as a redevelopment project, Johnson said. The village spent nearly a year trying to find a developer interested in preserving the historical building, after officials acquired it in 2012, he said.

“Preservation is important, and it is the reason the village elicited proposals for the Sawyer-Kelley property that did not focus solely on redevelopment,” Johnson said. “Proposals to preserve the building were actively sought.”

Board members last week had a proposal to preserve the building, but the developer wanted more money from the village than the one interested in demolishing the property and building a higher-valued commercial space.

Despite the disagreement, the village will work with local historians on preserving items unique to the mill, Johnson said.

The commission would need to identify what items to preserve and where to store them, Britton said.

“Barring the building from being saved, if we could save something that is historical inside it, that would be good,” she said.

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