If you want a home setting that’s not run-of-the-mill, Sandidges Mill in Amherst County is a perfect fit.
The three-story brick building, one of the county’s last surviving 19th-century gristmills, in recent years was restored into a modern home with the second floor currently leased as an apartment. The mill’s front doorstep is less than a mile from U.S. 60 West on a narrow stretch of Sandidges Road with scenic countryside views and a soothing backdrop of birds chirping that many may prefer over downtown traffic noise or the bustle of a busy apartment complex.
John Patteson, the mill’s owner, bought the structure in 2006 and saw potential life as a future home with rural charm. In 2009, he worked to stabilize the structure and eight years later began piecing together the process to transform the upper floor into living space.
Patteson, an Amherst resident who has restored numerous historic properties, said the stabilization and conversion of the mill into a home is the largest renovation he’s ever done. Since 2019, he’s leased the second floor to three different tenants and said it’s worked out well since the market wasn’t great for a long-term sale.
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The first floor, a great room, has vintage furniture and antiques. A large mirror on the wall is from a former downtown Amherst drugstore and a counter top with a pair of wood stools he bought is from a country store in Tightsqueeze, a community in Pittsylvania County.
“We’ve never been able to kick the habit,” Patteson said of he and his wife finding old collectibles.
Patteson also bought a home across the road in Sandidges he restored and two other older buildings that were cornerstone sites in the small village area. He sold the house he restored more than a decade ago and thought at the time he would one do something with the mill, which at the time was heavily dilapidated and filled with challenges.
“The floor was rotted it out and it had 70% of a roof,” said Patteson. “We had to start under it and work our way up.”
The former water-powered gristmill’s slate roof was replaced in 2009 and extensive stabilization work was done that year. In March 2017, Patteson began the restoration and eventually became frustrated with trying so sell it so he stuck a ‘for rent’ sign in front of it.
“I had a lot of fun doing this,” Patteson said of restoring the site into a home.
Each floor has about 1,340 square feet and the apartment space includes two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms and an additional room. All throughout the building are historic pictures, some Colonial-style artwork, that come with the furnishings.
“I’ve got plenty of it,” Patteson said of the historic-laced décor.
The restored mill has high ceilings and “aesthetically pleasing” features he’s proud of. The barn across the road he’s been told was built by Mennonites who helped the area recover from the devastation caused by the remnants of Hurricane Camille in August 1969.
He’s looking for similar success with the circa-1892 post office building a few doors down, last operated about 67 years ago. The thought of selling the property to someone who may get rid of those two historic structures next to the mill is not something he wants to entertain despite suggestions from realtors and insurance professionals, he said.
“It has some fantastic architectural details,” Patteson said of the old post office and his sentimental attachment to it. “I don’t want somebody to come in and tear those buildings down…they are fixable. I just can’t do it.”
Patteson said that stretch of Sandidges Road has had a mill for the past 203 years and he believes the brick structure predates the start of the Civil War.
Following a flood in 1941 the mill’s equipment was moved to another mill in Madison Heights. The mill last operated more than 80 years ago and joins Galt’s Mill, Brightwell’s Mill and the former Amherst Milling Co. as the last remaining mills in the county, according to a nomination form to place the Brightwell’s site on the National Register of Historic Places, which was celebrated in 2017.
Amherst Milling Co. on Union Hill Road in the town of Amherst also underwent a heavy restoration into a brewery and restaurant, Camp Trapezium, which opened its doors last summer.
James Hawes, a Amherst resident who helped stabilize the Sandidges Mill, said that process was fairly involved with various factors going on at the same time.
“We kept as much character as we could,” Hawes said.
Patteson said the same dimensions as when the building was a working mill has been maintained.
“It’s a beefy foundation,” Patteson said of the extensive renovation on Sandidges Mill. “You could drive a tractor in there if you wanted to.”
Patteson said he’s proud of the work done to give a piece of history in Sandidges a new lease on life. The touchups have been done in a way any history buff can appreciate.
Looking over at the old post office with a stare of a mind in full restoration mode, Patteson appeared ready embark on a new rehab adventure. The will is great but resources are a challenge.
“I’d love to have it looking good again,” he said.
For now, he’s proud of the work gone into giving a piece of history in Amherst County a new lease on life that pays tribute to a bygone era of the old community mill.
Future tenants, in addition to having history living in their four walls, can enjoy views of surrounding pastureland with cattle while also being a short drive from a main county highway and not too far from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“It’s tucked away,” Patteson said of the location. “It’s in the middle of nowhere but on the edge of everywhere.”