State wants 200-year-old mill building for sale in Dover-Foxcroft to become housing

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Piscataquis County and state officials want to see a former woolen mill and tannery redeveloped to tackle Maine’s lack of affordable housing.

The owner of the Brown Mills building, on Vaughn Road in Dover-Foxcroft, is selling the structure, which has five floors and about 65,000 square feet of usable space.

The owner did not disclose the asking price for the building. 

Observer photo/Valerie Royzman
BROWNS MILL – The Brown Mills building on Vaughn Road in Dover-Foxcroft.

Commissioner Heather Johnson of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development and officials from Dover-Foxcroft and Piscataquis County’s economic council toured the red brick structure Thursday. 

Across the state, the repurposing of old mills has resulted in apartments and space for local businesses, all while preserving the character and architectural elements of notable structures. Dover-Foxcroft’s historic Mayo woolen mill buildings, for example, opened as a mixed-use complex including residences, office space, a boutique inn and cafe in 2015.

If the Brown Mills building can find the right developer, local and state leaders see the structure as an opportunity for living space and possibly other mixed-use space, which could ease the rural area’s housing crunch and spur economic growth in the area.

Observer photo/Valerie Royzman
BUILDING SIGN – A sign inside the Brown Mills building in Dover-Foxcroft, photographed during a tour of the structure on Thursday.

“There’s so much need right now for properties and building redevelopment,” Johnson said following the tour. “When you get these unique buildings that have character and really leverage the local history, that’s an opportunity.”

The state’s role is to help attract investors and bring the right people to the table for conversations, Johnson said. That includes using a new website — — that shows properties on the market in Maine and funding through the Community Development Block Grant program.

“We try to support whatever the local community’s vision is for buildings like this,” she said. 

Observer photo/Valerie Royzman
RIVER VIEW – The Piscataquis River is seen from a window in the Brown Mills building in Dover-Foxcroft on Thursday.

The transformation of Mayo’s Mill was a major success, and town officials have hoped a similar project could be completed at the Brown Mills building, Town Manager Jack Clukey said. He hasn’t heard of apartment vacancies at the complex and said there’s usually a waiting list, which highlights the need for more housing locally. 

The Brown Mills structure was built in 1829, operated as a woolen mill until the 1950s and then as a tannery until 1975, said Michael Dugay, who guided the tour along with the building’s caretaker. He represents owner Charles Fitzgerald, who is 88 years old and needs assistance with the sale of the building.

“He’s had an opportunity many times to sell this building, and he wouldn’t do it,” he said, noting the 12,000 acres that Fitzgerald owns and plans to give to the state for conservation. “He just loves to buy anything that has land or is unusual, but then he doesn’t have a tendency to do anything with it.”

Observer photo/Valerie Royzman
COMMISSIONER’S VISIT – Commissioner Heather Johnson of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development speaks with those who participated in a tour of the Brown Mills building in Dover-Foxcroft on Thursday.

Geoff Spitzer, Chinburg Properties’ vice president of commercial design and development, also joined the tour. The construction firm — based in Newmarket, New Hampshire — owns mill properties in Biddeford, Saco, Westbrook and Lewiston, among other places outside Maine, he said.

Although Dover-Foxcroft is quite a ways from the areas the company typically works in, one of its specialties is historic mill conversions, which is why Dugay reached out, Spitzer said.

“We’re interested,” he said. “We’re just kicking the tires.”

Discussions about how to transform the mill have led to ideas about housing, medical access and child care, which could bring new residents to Piscataquis County and meet the needs of those already living there, Johnson said.

Angela Arno, Piscatquis County Economic Development Council executive director, sees people travel to the region for tourism who want to stay, but the county doesn’t have the housing stock to accommodate them, she said. That includes traveling nurses who want to work at Mayo Hospital but aren’t looking to buy houses and instead want to rent, she said.

Arno pointed to local sites such as the Piscataquis County Ice Arena and new Jim Robinson Field House, which would be attractive to families. Johnson noted revitalization in Monson and proposed projects in Greenville. Brown’s Mill Park, which overlooks the Piscataquis River and is adjacent to the building they toured, is also an asset now that the area is clean and accessible, the commissioner said. 

Dover-Foxcroft used $600,000 in state Brownfields grant funding to convert the former tannery property into recreational land for the public, a project that wrapped up in 2013, Clukey said.

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