2013-04-03 / News

Swift Creek Mill Theatre to be renovated

By Jim McConnell


Renovation at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, which will add a two-story addition as well as other improvements, is expected to begin next month. Renovation at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, which will add a two-story addition as well as other improvements, is expected to begin next month. The owner of the Swift Creek Mill Theatre expects to begin construction next month on a major renovation of the historic building in southern Chesterfield.

Colonial Heights-based Roslyn Farm Corporation will spend approximately $1 million to build a two-story addition onto the rear of the existing structure, according to Jennifer Procise, the theater’s director of development and marketing.

The extra square footage will allow for relocation and modernization of the building’s kitchen, expansion of its bathrooms, HVAC upgrades and the installation of an elevator to improve access to second-floor theater seating.

Sprinklers will also be installed as a safety feature of the renovation, which is intended to bring the 350-year-old building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The 350-year-old building that houses the Swift Creek Mill Theatre has been designated as a historic landmark on the county, state and federal levels. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer The 350-year-old building that houses the Swift Creek Mill Theatre has been designated as a historic landmark on the county, state and federal levels. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer After the project is completed, the theater, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, will be eligible for both state and federal grants and its owner will be eligible for federal tax credits.

But Procise said the theater’s customers will benefit most from the changes.

“We have a very open line of communication with our subscriber base,”she said. “Many of them told us that they loved our plays, but they couldn’t subscribe this year because they couldn’t get up the stairs.”

The building that houses the Swift Creek Mill Theatre was erected as a gristmill in 1663 by Henry Randolph I. Widely believed to be the oldest gristmill in the United States, Swift Creek Mill changed hands many times and was used in various capacities until it ceased operations in 1956.

Swift Creek Mill is a Chesterfield County historic landmark and a Virginia Historical Landmark. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Because of the building’s historic significance, renovation requires far more than knocking down a wall or two. “We’ve strived to maintain the character of the mill,” said Nick Walker, marketing director for Roslyn Farm.

To that end, the company hired Richmond-based architect Mimi Sadler as a consultant. Sadler, whose firm specializes in preservation and adaptive reuse of historic structures, worked with officials from Roslyn Farm and the Swift Creek Mill Theatre to identify changes that could be made without damaging the old mill building’s historic status.

Chesterfield’s Preservation Committee, a seven-member board comprised of local volunteers with interest and expertise in historic preservation, issued a Certificate of Appropriateness for the Swift Creek Mill Theatre renovation last August.

Because of slight alterations to the original plan, Roslyn Farm and its architect made another presentation during last week’s Preservation Committee meeting. Committee members again voted unanimously to approve the changes.

Mary Ellen Howe, chair of the Preservation Committee since 1989, noted that Roslyn Farm’s plans are “positive and within standards set by the Secretary of the Interior.”

“When people make improvements to these buildings, we’re delighted,” she said.

The Preservation Committee was established in 1987 as part of Article XXIII of the county code, an ordinance that authorized the Board of Supervisors to designate historic landmarks, landmark sites and historic districts in the county.

The committee assists county supervisors in the administration and enforcement of Article XXIII.

“We work with the public to get a positive result that not only preserves structures, but makes them useful for the community,” Howe added.

From today through May 4, Swift Creek Mill Theatre is hosting a production called “The Honky Tonk Angels.”

Construction is expected to begin shortly after that show closes and the theater will be closed indefinitely, with a goal of completion in time for the start of its annual holiday production schedule.

“See How They Run,” a play that was scheduled to run from late May through the end of June, will be cancelled, Procise said.

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