The years since I drafted Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider have brought significant, often dramatic, restoration and redevelopment to long neglected historic mills like the ones at the heart of my novel.
One impetus for the renewal appeared in a handful of towns in Maine, where credit-card giant MBNA transformed old mills into attractive call centers that in turn revitalized local economies. Even after being shut down in a later buyout, the benefits linger, and other developers had concrete models to follow.
Visionary entrepreneurs like the late Joseph Sawtelle here in New Hampshire as well as nonprofit agencies or local government-backed councils entered the picture, making mills in other towns emerge as small-business incubators or readily adaptable buildings for new arrivals, especially enterprises growing rapidly.
And, if the location’s right, they can attract artists of all stripes – painters, sculptors, printers, dancers, musicians, craftsmen, bakers and caterers – as an affordable alternative with natural light and high ceilings. (We love the annual studio tours and open houses in the mills in one nearby town.)
Sometimes the downtown locations lend themselves to conversion into residential condos as well. And then there are universities, health-care organizations, and museums that move in for convenience. (Well, one mill in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, does have a helicopter pad on the roof.)
In other words, there are some fascinating case studies just about everywhere I turn. But I still haven’t found any where the top of the tower is turned into a tiny penthouse, not the way Bill did at one point in the novel. I’m still quite fond of that touch.