Sweetwater Creek State Park is celebrating the restoration of the 168-year-old New Manchester mill ruins during a special grand reopening next month.
The grand reopening is set for Sunday, Dec. 17 from 12-4 p.m., Sweetwater Creek State Park Assistant Manager Royce Johnson said. Everyone is invited to come to the park and tour inside the mill ruins at no charge.
Johnson said this will be a rare chance for people to go inside the mill ruins without paying for one of the park’s guided hikes, which typically cost $5 a person.
Johnson said there will be people dressed in period clothing and that guides and interpretive rangers will be on hand to provide information about the history of the mill ruins.
He said the main room and the elevator room will be open to visitors. The only area that visitors won’t be allowed in is the wheel room where the archway is due to safety concerns.
“It will be kind of a cool little gathering kind of celebrating the fact that the mill’s been finished,” Johnson said. “It should be a fun day.”
The inside of the mill ruins have been used for weddings, filming major motion pictures and guided hikes for years.
But about three years ago, someone on a hike noticed a brick column leaning slightly. Engineers confirmed it and tours inside the mill were shut down for safety reasons.
On June 14 of this year, Aegis Restauro, LLC, a New Jersey company that specializes in architectural conservation and historic preservation, started work on a $375,000 project to stabilize the ruins.
Johnson said the restoration took just over 90 days to complete and the first official guided tours back inside the mill ruins started again in late October.
The grand reopening on Dec. 17 was planned to coincide with the 168th anniversary of the mill’s opening on Dec. 21, 1849.
“We didn’t want it to be too close to Christmas where people who were traveling couldn’t enjoy it, so we were trying to do it the weekend before we got too close to Christmas,” Johnson said.
The Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park are also celebrating the grand reopening with a Candlelight Hike to the Mill from 6-8 p.m. on Dec. 17, the same day as the grand reopening.
The cost is $5 cash per person and goes to the nonprofit Friends of Sweetwater group, which is made up of volunteers who help maintain the park year-round. The fees collected go directly into enhancing the park, Johnson said.
The Candlelight Hike to the Mill is also being offered Saturday, Dec. 9 from 6-8 p.m. for those who can’t make it on Dec. 17.
Johnson said no headlamps or flashlights are allowed and that lanterns are provided to everyone on the candlelight hike.
Reservations aren’t required for the candlelight hike — just meet at the visitor’s center parking lot at 5:30 p.m.
“They tell some stories about what it was like for members of the mill, just to kind of get more of a feel for what it was like for people at that time period, what it was like for the workers,” Johnson said. “So you’re getting the history hike, you get to go in the mill and then you get to come back.”
Johnson added: “It’s really cool to see a group of people and all you can see is candlelights off in the distance as they’re walking up.”
The Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park has been active for years, and the late Capt. Herb Emory was a big supporter of the group.
Johnson said the Friends of Sweetwater will for the first time in memory have a float in the Douglasville Christmas Parade on Dec. 1. Johnson will be on the float with his wife and baby and joked that he’s been to many parades but this will be the first time he’s be in one.
Looking ahead to 2018, Johnson said Sweetwater plans for several park enhancements that should be done as early as next summer. He said a new fence will be put up around the mill ruins. The old restrooms near the visitor’s center are being torn down and new restrooms will be built at picnic Shelter 7. The spot where the old restrooms are now will be torn down and turned into a new picnic area, Johnson said.
Visit gastateparks.org/SweetwaterCreek to learn more about Sweetwater Creek State Park and click on “EVENTS” at the top of the page for a full schedule of upcoming events.