Community members are hoping for a Christmas miracle for a beloved landmark and gathering place in North Vassalboro after it suffered heavy damage in an Oct. 30-31 wind storm.

In the downtown area, The Olde Mill Place has served as the focal point of a community-based revitalization, all orchestrated by one local resident — Ray Breton. After the severe wind storm, which left hundreds of thousands without power in Maine for days, the mill needs serious repairs.

A group of community members, organized by Linda Titus, are taking it upon themselves to raise as much money as possible and give back to the man who has done so much for the town.

“In Vassalboro, the mill is the community center,” Titus said, “and it is not town-owned or -run. It’s all done by Ray Breton.”

So far the group has collected money for the repairs at the annual Halloween event and at a fundraiser at Cutt-It-Out, a local barber shop and salon. It also has opened an account under “Save the Mill” at Maine Savings Federal Credit Union on Main Street, where people have been donating every day, Titus said.

They started with $1,000 the night of Halloween, which “just floored” the volunteers.

“It’s a community outpouring of empathy and support,” she said.

The group had about $2,500 in the savings account Monday. While Titus said she hopes they can raise the money by spring, when the repairs will need to be done, she also realizes “it’s going to take a miracle.”

“We need to find a benefactor to help out, or to kick off something, or to offer matching,” she said. “We’re talking $250,000. … It’s a huge amount of money.”

Kim Kimball, a local LuLaRoe women’s clothing seller, is organizing a large benefit fundraiser on Dec. 2 at the mill. Beginning at noon, the event will feature raffles, shopping, food from the Red Barn in Augusta and cookies from the China Dine-ah. After the benefit, at 4:30 p.m., Ky Jowdry will host a painting night. All of the proceeds will go toward repairing the mill.

Darrell Gagnon is hosting another benefit on Dec. 30 that will feature music and a potluck meal for $30 from 6 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. at the mill. Tickets can be bought at The Olde Mill Place or the Cutt-It-Out salon, or from Gagnon on his business’s Facebook page.

As more fundraising events and benefits are planned, they will be advertised on the Save the Mill Facebook group.

Titus also hopes to start a fundraiser on www.youcaring.com, a crowdfunding website similar to GoFundMe that doesn’t charge platform fees.

“It was pretty nice, seeing the whole town come together,” Breton said about the fundraising efforts.

Breton bought the mill in 2010, but he didn’t insure the property, because of the high cost. The wind storm peeled back parts of the mill’s roof as large as 150 feet and caused severe damage, estimated to cost at least $250,000 to repair. The recent rain seeped into the building and is filling up the tarps that Breton and his friends put down. For now, they’ve used tarps and plaster to fill the holes.

Without repairs, the mill would have to be shut down. If the group can’t raise enough money, Breton said, he might take out a low-interest loan.

“It’s pretty depressing when you look at the roof on both ends,” he said.

The mill is used for a number of community events, including a haunted house that draws more than 1,000 people each year, the annual Vassalboro Days, and the community Christmas tree lighting.

Breton owns seven other lots and nine buildings in the downtown area, as well. He has built a park at the Outlet Stream, where he installed a gazebo, and lets the town hold a Double Dam Duck Derby on the property. He turned an empty lot into a public basketball court. He also collects money from tours of the Mill Agent’s House, believed to be haunted, and hands that over to the Vassalboro Food Pantry.

What Breton has done, with the help of volunteers and town officials, has helped to reshape the community, Titus said.

“I grew up in Winslow and … nobody wanted to live in Vassalboro when I was growing up, because they didn’t take care of their kids,” she said. “They didn’t give busing. The kids had to hitchhike to school.”

The town “was tenementlike, not communitylike.”

Now the children have things to do and the town has places to gather in the community.

“I just can’t emphasize enough what he has done for the town of Vassalboro and the community,” she said of Breton.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

 

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