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Historic Langdale Mill may find new life

VALLEY — There’s still some hope that the historic portion of Langdale Mill can survive and find new life as an apartment complex.

At a Tuesday evening meeting of the Valley City Council, twin brothers Thomas and John Bush of the Henry Hudson Company talked about what they’ve done in demolishing part of the mill complex and what they’d like to do with what’s left.

Mayor Leonard Riley commended them for the manner in which the old warehouses and some offices had been taken down. They have taken an exceptional amount of debris to the landfill and have brought back fill dirt to level areas that have been cleared. Grading on the north side of the mill site could be finished before the annual Christmas Merry Go Round is open to the public. “Lots of people will be walking by there at that time, and we’d like for them to see what’s been done thus far,” said Thomas Bush.

The warehouse area on the north side of the complex consisted of 12 separate buildings. All but one of them have come down. The one exception, Building Four, will be brought down later. “Building No. 10 was awful,” Thomas Bush said. “It had a lot of metal in it that was difficult to get out. We filled 30 scrap trailers with it, most of it being steel I beams.”

He called it a prime example of overbuilding, making a building much more sturdy than it needed to be.

“From the get go, we have always seen Langdale as a development project with a demolition component,” Thomas said. “Our personal goal is for it to be apartments. We have been talking to and negotiating with a potential partner. We’d like to leave the three-story structure on the site.”

Bush said he’d showed the three-story section to an architect who’s presently redeveloping an old mill in central Alabama. He said that he was almost giddy in closely examining how well it had been built compared to what he’s working with now.

Plans are to leave the three-story section for  now, along with Building No. 21, commonly known as the cannery. “It would make for an excellent office for an apartment complex,” he said. “The warehouse areas are out of the flood plain. We can build back there. Building No. 15 is my favorite building on the property. It’s also known as the picker room. It would make for an excellent event hall.”

No. 15 might have to come down, though, if the apartment area is to have windows.

For several years now, the Bush brothers have been trying to get a major grocery store to located on Fob James Drive. The hitch has always been that an estimated 3,000 more people needed to live in close proximity to Fob James. “They tell us we need more people within a three-mile loop,” he said. “What Valley needs is more housing, more people and more opportunity.”

“Valley has come a long way in the time we’ve been here,” Bush continued. “The mayor and council has done a good job of preparing for new industry to come here. Developers chance money so they can sell properties. We are getting close to a tipping point where they will be able to do that here.”

The Henry Hudson Company has some more demolition work it needs to do on the site. Buildings 13, 17, 19 and 20 are not in good condition and need to come down. That’s approximately 62,000 square feet of floor space. That leaves well over 250,000 square feet that can be redeveloped.

Mayor Riley said he was okay with that. He said that a bond would not be needed to proceed with Nos. 13, 17, 19 and 20 but one would be needed to proceed beyond that.

Bush said that the architect he’d been talking to described Langdale as a passion project. “He told us that’s what it is if it’s something we really want to do and because of that it will take more time,” Bush explained.

Another possibility to be considered is that the Southern Company in the coming years may take out the low head dams on the river at Langdale and River View. At present, they are losing money hand over fist to keep them there. “They are losing $3 million a year on them,” Bush said. “If they do take them out, there will be some awesome whitewater out there. I do have reservations about losing the dam. It’s one of the most beautiful structures I’ve ever seen. The powerhouse would make for an awesome restaurant.”

Bush said that the mill has some excellent flooring material. “It’s some of the best wood that can be found in the Southeast,” he said, “but we’d rather build apartments than to demolish it.”

Council Member Jim Jones, a long-time proponent of redeveloping the mill, thanked the Bush brothers for their interest in local history and holding out the possibility of redeveloping it for future use. “It’s good,” he said, “As long as you stick to your plan and exhaust all possibilities to do something with the three-story building.”

The council unanimously approved a resolution to allow demolition of Buildings 13, 17, 19 and 20 but requiring a bond to demolish any of the other buildings.

The brothers own the former cotton warehouse building on River Road. That’s the location of the Henry Hudson Flooring Company. The wood they’ve salvaged from Riverdale and Langdale mills is being stored there. They have a sawmill operation inside the big building and are repurposing some of the valuable heartwood pine into custom home packaging. “Some of our customers are really into the history of the wood and some just want it because of its quality,” Thomas Bush said. “We can tell you where every board we have came from.”

Riverdale Mill has a special place in their hearts. “Those who built that mill were real men,” said Thomas. “The river is on the heels of it. It’s almost impossible to build back there. It’s ideal for a park, and that’s very much on our agenda. We haven’t forgotten about it.”