Several roosters roamed in front of a historic mill close to the railroad tracks on Union Hill Road on a recent warm sunny afternoon, as peaceful a scene in Amherst County one will see.
Inside the mill moments later, the mill’s owner, Dave McCormack, described the complicated nature of renovating the building he purchased a few years ago as “complete chaos” but a challenge his company has welcomed.
Waukeshaw Development is restoring the former Amherst Milling Co., which ceased operations as a working mill in 2017, into a new brewery and restaurant called Camp Trapezium.
“It’s a very complex building, a really complex project,” McCormack said of the lengthy $2.5 million project to usher in a new use for the old site with more than 200 years of history in Amherst. “At the end of the day the goal is to make it seem like nothing ever happened in here.”
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During a recent tour of the property with Amherst County and Town of Amherst officials, McCormack said workers touched nothing on the structure’s two upper floors.
“It all still operates. You can run the mill still,” McCormack said. “That’s like a living museum up there. There’s a lot of new to this building, but you would never really know it.”
McCormack showcased the equipment that will operate a five-barrel system to make craft beer, explaining the new brewery plans to craft a farmhouse ale using ingredients grown on the property close to U.S. 29 Business in the town.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can with this property,” McCormack said. “We’re harvesting yeast. Right now there’s yeast all around us in the air.”
He described the slew of craft beer types envisioned, a grassy area for outdoor gatherings and seating capacity for up to 90 people.
“A lot of variety, a lot of fun,” McCormack said of the planned beverages. “It’s going to be very diverse. We’re aging a lot of beer here.”
He also showed the outdoor features, including an old waterwheel, a greenhouse, a garden area and an adjoining home that will be used for more than a handful of rental units.
Waukeshaw Development purchased the mill in the summer of 2017 for $350,000. The brewery, an outpost of Trapezium Brewery Co. in Petersburg, will include brick-oven pizza on its menu.
“This place is going to be a destination,” County Administrator Dean Rodgers said while admiring views walking through the building.
McCormack said the brewery, which has not announced its opening timeframe yet, would make a fitting addition to the Brew Ridge Trail. The trail traverses craft breweries in Nelson and Albemarle counties and Charlottesville and McCormack hopes to eventually extend it south to Amherst to include Camp Trapezium and Loose Shoe Brewery.
“We want people to make a weekend out of Amherst,” he said, adding of the new brewery: “This is a massive economic engine.”
The company also purchased Winton Farm, a country club and golf course on Virginia 151 in the Clifford community, in 2019. McCormack said Winton recently held its first wedding since the purchase and a pool house is seeing heavy use as a rental attraction.
“There is such a demand here in the county for that stuff,” McCormack said, adding Winton also is envisioned to eventually tie into the Brew Ridge Trail. “It needs to be another stop on the way.”
McCormack said when the business opens a goal is to have Bill Wydner, who operated the mill for many years prior its sale, lead tours of the attraction.
“We want people to experience this place,” he said.
McCormack is aiming to put in place a conservation easement on about 76 acres around the mill, which is near the Mill Race subdivision. A conservation easement, a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or entity, permanently limits the use of the land and ensures no future development on the land occurs.
Amherst Town Council is considering amending the town’s comprehensive plan, a tool to guide growth and development, to allow the potential easement but has not yet made any decisions. Town officials have expressed concern utility infrastructure is in place and ready for future residential growth and the easement could cause that investment to be landlocked. The Town of Amherst Planning Commission in December 2019 took up the request and on a 3-2 vote recommended denial.
“Our goal is to protect this place,” McCormack said of pursuing the easement. “We want to maintain the bucolic nature … we want this to remain like it was for a long time.”
Jennifer Moore, vice-chair of the Amherst County Board of Supervisors, toured the mill Sept. 22 along with an apartment complex the company is redeveloping in a former Madison Heights school.
“These projects are catalysts for economic development and historic preservation,” Moore said. “You can see and hear the rhythm of progress in our community. I’m eager to see the final projects and know these locations will be places for neighbors to gather, celebrate and enjoy.”