Hawley Silk Mill: A Successful Combination of Historic Rehabilitation and Environmental Sustainability

Posted on: May 11th, 2011 by Guest Writer

Written by David Kimmerly

The Hawley Silk Mill (background) and the Cocoon Coffee House (foreground). (Photo: David Kimmerly, Preservation Pennsylvania)

In the past two and a half years as a Partners in the Field representative for both Preservation Pennsylvania and the National Trust, there have been more unresolved issues and outright failures than there have been successes in trying to protect historic buildings. But here is a success story. Hawley Silk Mill, also known as the Bellemonte Silk Mill, was built in 1881 and is located in the Pocono Mountains in the town of Hawley, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Hawley is at the northern end of Lake Wallenpaupack, an artificial lake that now attracts thousands of visitors for sporting and recreational activities, but was created by Pennsylvania Power and Light Company in the 1920s to generate hydroelectric power. Prior to the damming of the Wallenpaupack Creek to create the lake, the waterway served as a source of power for the Hawley Silk Mill and the nearby American Rich Cut Glass Company (c.1890).

After converting uses to the Sherman Underwear Mills in the mid-20thcentury, the Hawley Silk Mill was finally abandoned in the late 1980s, used only partially as an antique store which utilized only a small portion of the building. In 2008, local hotelier Grant Genzlinger formed a partnership of local entrepreneurs to purchase the mill building and rehabilitate it using federal Historic Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credits.

The Solar Panels on the Hawley Silk Mill. (Photo: Hawley Silk Mill, LLC)

Not only did the development partnership go to great lengths to preserve the architectural integrity of the mill, they also found ways to make it more green. For example, solar panels were positioned to lie as flush as possible with the roof and are therefore not visible from the primary elevation of the building. The solar panels generate 58,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, and additional solar panels - and possibly even a geothermal energy system - are planned for the building.

Nearly complete, the restored silk mill includes educational, commercial and office space. Lackawanna College has already leased the third floor of the silk mill, and will hold classes there for hospitality-related majors - relating perfectly to the tourist economy of the region. The office space is partially leased to tenants that include lifestyle, health and technology services, and an art show is planned this summer to try to attract a gallery to permanently occupy a portion of the retail space. Marketing of the retail aspects of the building also includes efforts to attract an upscale antique store and a recreational outfitter. The adjacent cocoon building (remember, this started out as a silk mill) is now the Cocoon Coffee House.

The National Association of Preservation Commissions has recently released Sample Guidelines for Solar Panels in Historic Districts, and has practical advice for the appropriate installation of solar energy equipment on historic buildings.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recently released an article entitled Solar Panels and Historic Preservation: The National Trust’s Position on Solar Panels as well as Design Guidelines for Solar Installations.

David Kimmerly is a Partners in the Field representative for both Preservation Pennsylvania and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

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Green, Revitalization