McKenna touts Stevens Linen Mill redevelopment as boon project
Part of the Stevens Linen Mill in Dudley, with one of its two distinctive towers.
By Rod Lee
More than a few ears perked up over one revelation offered by Rep. Joseph D. McKenna during a Webster-Dudley-Oxford Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast at Samuel Slater’s Restaurant in Webster the morning of November 6th.
Rep. McKenna had hardly finished telling those in attendance that with redistricting “my district doesn’t change one bit” when he added the news that the long-dormant Stevens Linen Mill property on the Dudley-Webster town line is finally going to be the object of “a major redevelopment.”
That Rep. McKenna’s announcement came weeks ahead of official confirmation of the initiative in the media made it that much more startling—and welcome.
After years of speculation about what would happen to the Stevens Linen Mill site coupled with interest from prospective developers and a subsequent determination by most of them that investment in reviving the complex was “too risky,” residents of the Webster-Dudley area can look forward to a project that will turn the handful of remaining structures, which are now in a state of dilapidation, into “housing, meeting space” and a venue for “weddings” and other functions, Rep. McKenna said.
“It will help revitalize that waterfront,” he said. “We need housing to support people coming in for work.”
William “Bill” Scanlan, acting town planner in Dudley, agreed. Asked on December 2 if he expects Atlanta-based Camden Management Partners’ revitalization efforts to earn Dudley Planning Board and public approval, Mr. Scanlan said “yes on both counts. This is something town officials are behind.” Planning Board public hearings about to ensue will take up such matters as “traffic, access and neighborhood concerns,” Mr. Scanlan said, but by next summer “these should be wrapped up” and the project should be able to proceed.
A one-story building that was added to the complex “will be taken down,” Mr. Scanlan said. The other stone buildings “are worth saving.”
At the legislative breakfast, Mr. McKenna had previously addressed what he described as “the hiring crisis” in the Commonwealth by asserting that Amazon has plans to set up operations in the towns of Charlton and Uxbridge, “small communities that don’t need a thousand new jobs, which makes for an interesting paradox.” Amazon coming into South County and the Blackstone Valley “will have good and bad impacts. We are watching that closely,” Rep. McKenna said.
He also conveyed word at Samuel Slater’s Restaurant in regard to American Rescue Plan funding the state has obtained that “it’s good to finally get this money out the door, small amounts for companies that didn’t qualify for PPE. Some businesses that started up during the pandemic” weren’t eligible for dollars at that time, either, he noted.
The Legislature is not ignoring a crisis that has arisen involving unemployment, he said. “Some families received a ton of money and are now getting letters saying ‘you owe thousands.’ We are looking at a waiver” as a corrective step to their predicament, he said.
Meanwhile, Camden Management Partners’ intention of transforming the 6.95 acres that the Stevens Linen Mill occupied for more than a century, including from 1850 to 1950 in its heyday, is seen as a positive not only by Rep. McKenna but by municipal leaders and members of the Dudley Historical Commission.
In Dudley and Webster, the name “Stevens” rivals that of “Draper” in Hopedale, “Slater” in Webster and “Whitin” in Northbridge, thanks to Henry Hale Stevens, who constructed the Stevens Linen Mill complex during the Civil War and imported machinery and workers from Scotland for the production of linen and flax fabric. His U-shaped complex, molded from granite and standing five stories high, actually consisted of ten structures in all, and featured two seven-story-tall towers, a mill pond and a dam.
Stevens Linen Mill’s buildings comprised a total 267,000 square feet.
The mill was added to the National Historic Register in 2010. This means “tax credits” will come into play in the redevelopment, Bill Scanlan said.
“Ten percent of the one hundred fifty-six units of housing are required to be affordable,” he said.
In a YouTube video, Dudley Town Clerk Lori Smith described the Stevens Linen Mill buildings as “our community’s foremost historic structure” and “the only remaining example of linen manufacturing in the U.S.” She praised the complex’s “lasting physical integrity.” The Stevens Linen Mill is, Ms. Smith said, “our symbol of home.” Unfortunately, “it deteriorates more as each day passes.”
Now, with Camden Management Partners ready to undertake a $40 million redevelopment, hope springs anew for the Stevens Linen Mill to be preserved in some context.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.