New Path Makes Historic Gristmill, Labyrinth Accessible To All

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Recreation , Disability access

A new accessible path now winds up the hill to the historic Godfrey Gristmill. TIM WOOD PHOTO


CHATHAM – An accessible path has been completed in Chase Park, providing access to the historic grist mill and community labyrinth at the back of the downtown green space.

“It's looking pretty good,” said Frank Messina, a volunteer at the Godfrey Grist Mill, which dates from 1797 and is one of the oldest working mills on the Cape.

The winding path provides access from the parking lot off Shattuck Place to the windmill that sits at the apex of a hill, and to the labyrinth behind it. The $45,000 project was approved by town meeting and paid for with community preservation funds.

“I really like the way the path curves its way up the hill to the gristmill and then on to the labyrinth,” said Anne Bonney, a frequent user of the labyrinth and its informal caretaker. “It's a nice preview of the labyrinth curves and turns to come.”

Because of the elevation, it was necessary to design the access path with several switchbacks winding through the park's memorial trees in order to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Messina said in the past, people in wheelchairs or with walkers, as well as families with strollers, could not make it up the few stairs and steep path that previously existed. The project was endorsed by the park and recreation commission and the committee for the disabled, he added.

“It's a really nice addition,” he commented. “People are using it.”

Unfortunately, the gristmill, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, cannot itself be made accessible. But the path will provide many more people with the ability to view it close up, especially when the sails are turning and the stones are grinding corn, Messina said.

“It is, in my opinion, a very exhilarating experience,” he said.

The mill was open this summer in a “modified” way, with masks required and social distancing protocols in place; only a few people were allowed to enter at a time. Those who didn't want to go inside the confined interior of the mill could watch the corn grinding process on a video displayed outside. Cleaning took place once a week.

“It was limited,” Messina said of the summer. “We probably had one third the number of visitors” during a typical summer, when an average of about 3,000 people visit the mill.

Both the mill and the labyrinth are enhanced by the path, Bonney said in an email. She said she has already seen people with canes and walkers as well as young families with strollers taking advantage of the new path.

The paving work was done in July by Lawrence Lynch under an existing contract with the town, said Park Director Dan Tobin. Loaming of the location was done by town crews, and a landscape company brought in to hydroseed the area.

At some point, Messina said, signs will be installed at the entrance to the path detailing the history of the mill and paying homage to its original builder, Col. Benjamin Godfrey, who fought at the battle of Bunker Hill. Built on the east side of Stage Harbor Road, the mill was moved to its current location, known as Rink Hill, in 1955 after it was donated to the town by Stuart and Helen Crocker.

Plans are also in the works to place a Revolutionary War memorial at the location, Messina said.