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New effort made to conserve historic riverfront landmark

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s ongoing effort to spruce up the Otter Creek riverfront has received another shot in the arm. The selectboard has agreed to acquire the deteriorating, historic powerhouse structure at the north end of the falls for the purpose of conserving it.
The powerhouse was part of a once-thriving hydro operation that provided an essential engine for Middlebury’s bustling quarrying industry during the 19th century. But the industry fell on hard times during the 20th century, leaving related hydro structures — including the powerhouse — dormant.
So while the powerhouse has remained in conspicuous public view in the foreground of the scenic Otter Creek Falls, it has fallen into disrepair. A Lincoln-based architect during the 1990s considered building a circular restaurant on the powerhouse site. The Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) took ownership of the structure — which sits on a tenth of an acre — in 1998.
MALT had planned on equipping a strengthened powerhouse with an attractive observation deck for viewing the Otter Creek Falls, as well as an interpretive display of Middlebury’s rich industrial history.
But MALT, a nonprofit with limited resources, has been unable to make its powerhouse vision a reality.
“It seemed wise for MALT to divest itself of the property,” said Middlebury Selectman Victor Nuovo, the board’s liaison to MALT.
With that in mind, the organization has agreed to deed the property to the town, and the town will in turn allocate a sum of $19,400 (the assessed value of the property) from Middlebury’s Land Conservation Fund to address the powerhouse’s most immediate structural needs and develop a strategy for managing the property.
The selectboard last week formally adopted this strategy and asked staff to work with MALT representatives to draft formal terms for the board to consider at its Sept. 9 meeting.
“It could become a wonderful site for our school children and tourists to learn more about our history,” Selectman Craig Bingham said.
A spruced-up powerhouse would also complement recent work in restoring the riverfront on the nearby Marble Works side of Otter Creek Falls.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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