Locals step up to help repair Bridgewater Red Mill following storm damage: ‘Such a nice gesture’

BRIDGEWATER — Matt Denning, owner of the landmark Red Mill on South Main Street, believes there are guardian angels all around him — since two of them have recently stepped forward to help him in a time of need.

On Sept. 1, the Red Mill, which was built in 1796, was hit with the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida, and is now in a state of disrepair.

Denning, who is in the process of rebuilding the Red Mill, had nearly run out of funds and was seeking help from the community. On a recent afternoon, he was standing outside the mill, working on the repairs, when a man he never met before came by.

“He drove down my driveway, got out of his car and walked over to me,” said Denning, who works in Roxbury as a private chef. “He said he really wants to help.”

The man told Denning he’s been living in this area for many years and knew Elmer Garrett, the son of the previous owner of the mill.

“He said that he really wants to see the mill back in working order in his lifetime, and he offered to finance the project,” Denning said adding that the man preferred to remain anonymous.

Several days later, the man was true to his word.

“He came down with a wad of cash for $2,400, and handed it to the mason,” Denning said. “This gentleman paid for the foundation for the new flume.”

The man also told Denning he plans to continue to fund the project, with funds covering labor and materials.

“He said he wants to drive by and see the mill the way it used to look,” Denning said.

Just a few days after that, the second “angel” came into Deming’s life — New Milford artist Lorraine Ryan

Ryan read about the damages in the New Milford Spectrum and offered to help Denning through her artwork. She plans to create a painting of the mill the way it had looked before the flood, and have it auctioned. Proceeds will go towards the repairs.

Ryan’s paintings, which she said, are typically sold for $750 to $1,000, can be seen around the greater New Milford area. She recently painted 15 of the Barn Quilt Trail paintings that were on view at Gallery 25 & Creative Arts Studio in New Milford, and sold six of them. She painted 25 historic barns in Litchfield County over the last 30 years. She also has paintings at the Hopkins Inn in New Preston.

Most recently, Ryan donated a painting of the Housatonic River to former New Milford Mayor Liba Furhman for the Housatonic Valley Association, which sponsors RiverFest. The painting raised $1,000 through an auction.

Ryan has been familiar with the Red Mill for a long time. Her work is displayed at an art and frame shop in Newtown, and she often drives through Bridgewater to get there — and always passes the Red Mill.

After reading about the devastation of the mill, and learning Denning wanted to restore it, “it started the wheels rolling,” Ryan said.

Ryan will be basing her painting off a photograph of the Red Mill that she saw on the front page of The New Milford Spectrum in 1998 — and kept.

“I always thought that it would be a great thing to paint,” she said.

She will also use photographs of the mill that Denning gave her that his father, who was also a painter, painted.

Ryan, 89, whose husband, Martin Ryan, 93, recently wrote his first novel, have been married 67 years. A grandmother of five, Ryan is originally from Bronx, NY.

Since 1973, she has worked as an artist of commercial and designer of home products, and has been a fine artist since 1986.

Ryan said she plans to finish this painting before the end of the year.

“New Milford and its environs has been such a wonderful place for us, and for me as an artist. I want to see the Red Mill restored because it’s an historic landmark and should be preserved, if possible,” she said, adding while the mill is a private residence, “it’s a public site that everybody knows and is historic. It serves as a reminder of days gone by.”

Progress on repairs

Denning has started building a wall along the stream, which is now about half complete. It is made of new concrete and runs 25 feet from the dam along the stream. The wall needs to be extended another 25 feet to protect against future flooding, he said.

He is still looking for volunteers to help with the labor on the mill, or financial contributors. His fundraising campaign has raised about $2,500. To donate, visit gofundme.com and search “Old red mill Bridgewater.”

He said he still needs about $15,000 to complete the flume and wall of the Red Mill. He’s unable to estimate the cost of the additional repairs yet, such as the wheel. His goal is to have the wheel spinning by next summer.

“It’s such a nice gesture,” said Denning, referring to both individuals who came forward to help. “I’m really touched by people who wanted to help out. My wife (Norina) said that one day when we’re in a position to help someone, we’ll do the same.”