After the Stormthe Old Grist Mill

Kent and Lynn Hicks (W. Chesterfield)

interviewed by Laila Salins and Sandra Zandberga; photos by Gigi Kaeser (unless otherwise marked)

Westfield River during Hurricane Irene, 8/11 (archival photo)

Kent: I saw what this river could do —

it changed the way I renovated this building.

The Old Grist Mill (built in 1850) during the flooding of Hurricane Irene, 8/11 ( Kent Hicks archival photo)

the flood and the renovation

Kent: I was in the middle of jacking up part of the building when Hurricane Irene swept through in August 2011. So I saw what this river could do and it changed the way I renovated this building.

The river surged through the basement and up to the balcony – it even lifted a couch out of the basement into the river. (I was almost glad – I kept meaning to get rid of it!) I had recently begun renovating the building and the foundations weren’t secure, so I thought the whole structure might just get lifted up into the flood. I went into the water, trying to prevent objects and trees from hitting the building, but then it got so rough that I realized I had to get out or I’d get badly hurt, or worse– the building itself would be damaged.

Once the storm had passed, I renovated the mill in such a way that the water can flow through the basement floor and not ruin the supports.

It was after the hurricane that I met Lynn and we eventually decided to make the Old Grist Mill our home.

Lynn and Kent in downtown Northampton, family photo

a strong energy

Kent: I remember seeing this stretch of the Westfield River, driving back from a wedding, in 1984 maybe, I just thought it was beautiful. And then when I entered the building when it was for sale, it felt good – it had a strong energy. I guess I bought the place in 1990 – it was falling over a bit. But it was a great location, nine acres on the river in West Chesterfield.

tinted postcard of West Chesterfield, circa 1920’s (bridge next to the Old Grist Mill)

Kent: After I moved in, it just kind’a grew into offices and shops for my building company [Kent Hicks Construction Co.]. The original section of the building was a grist mill, so it was water-powered at one time. In 1850 there was a water wheel here – and in the early 1900’s it was still generating power.

Kent and Lynn outside the Old Grist Mill, 2019

a different kind of space

Lynn: The first time I ever came here, Kent said: I just want you to know – it’s a different kind of space… All it had at the time was an office, a gym, a bathroom and a small bedroom. So much has happened since then.

Our house is made out of a lot of recycled materials. We kept what some people might call “damaged” materials – wood that is warped or indented – because it’s part of the past. We have a strong sense of our connection to the history of this house.

renovated interior of the Old Grist Mill, using many recycled materials from the building (Kent Hicks photo)

a place of safety and comfort

Lynn: Being here, trying to make it my home, too, it’s a struggle at times. Kent grew up in the Oklahoma Panhandle – I was more of a city-girl, very social. This was a different world for me.

I had to reconnect with this area and try to make the environment a place of safety and comfort by creating different areas: a meditation garden, a yoga room, a “secret garden” – developing nooks and crannies so that our extended family can be here, too.

at right: Kent and Lynn by the Westfield River near their home (family photo)

grandson Rocko and mommy Yana by the Westfield River next to the Old Grist Mill (family photo)

looking toward the future

Kent: I still teach a tracking class once a year – and I would like to expand on that. I have a staff of 18 people in my construction company – they’re all great: eight of them work in the office here. We’re thinking of doing different kinds of trainings and workshops, as well – maybe redevelop the barn. It keeps evolving…

Lynn: As we’re getting older we think about how to make this into a place where we can stay into old age, and also have our grandchildren come stay with us. We look at the part of the yard that gets iced over and think, “oh, we’ll turn it into a skating rink for our grandchildren”. The space outside is as important as the space inside. We’re developing the gardens so we can be more self-sustaining and grow our own food – as long as the bugs don’t eat it!

the renovated Old Grist Mill, 3/20