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Sturdy old mill lives on.

Byline: Kurt Madar For The Register-Guard

Springfield's history as a timber town appears in city murals and sculptures, but nowhere is this history more apparent and rewoven into the city's modern face than the refurbished Booth-Kelly Mill on South Fifth Street.

Tom Faxon, owner of Northwest Door and Sash, relocated his business from Eugene to the Booth-Kelly site 17 years ago.

"Honestly, the opportunity to move presented itself at the exact right moment," he said. "I'm thankful it did because the space has treated us so well.

"Beyond the wonderfully spacious parking, beyond the fact that the building itself fits exactly with the aesthetic of Northwest Door and Sash - it hails back to the real woodworking and window-making of a hundred years ago - one of my favorite parts of being located here is that it is among other aesthetically pleasing buildings from older times.

"Essentially, like businesses in the past, we are right downtown instead of out West 11th."

The mill is readily visible from many parts of Springfield's center. The old crane shed rises like a pavilion above the millrace at the edge of the business district, and inside the shed, simple murals of old logging equipment add to the nostalgia induced by this dignified, historic industrial space.

Built in 1901 by the Booth-Kelly Lumber Company, the new mill was "the largest and most economical mill in Springfield," according to the Lane County Historian. "It produced a whopping 150,000 board feet a day, 130,000 more than any other Springfield mill."

The mill burned down in 1911 but was soon rebuilt. Except for a two-year closure in 1931-33, it functioned at full capacity until 1958, when Georgia Pacific bought the Booth-Kelly Lumber Company and kept the mill running until 1964. At that time, the mill was closed for financial reasons. In 1985, the company donated it, along with the millrace and millpond, to the city of Springfield.

This is when the real transformations of the old site began. One of its incarnations was as M's Shopping Center, which included a barbershop, two bowling lanes and even a carousel. During the 1970s, it served as a satellite campus for Lane Community College.

The mill now houses about two dozen businesses, including many that have nothing to do with wood products or even manufacturing. Examples include the Willamalane Park and Recreation District, Al's Moving Company and Account Collection Bureau Inc., a collection agency with headquarters at the Booth-Kelly site for 20 years.

None could be happier than Faxon, who is effusive in his praise for how well the site fits his business.

"I love the high ceilings, the natural light," he said, his lively eyes direct in their gaze. And, serendipitously, the mortise and tenon joinery Faxon uses is the same style employed in construction of the mill.

Mortise and tenon is one of the oldest ways of joining two pieces of wood at a 90-degree angle. In the words of the Random House Dictionary, a tenon is "a projection formed on the end of a timber or the like for insertion into a mortise of the same dimensions." The result: a joint of enduring strength.

"All old timber frame buildings are mortise and tenon structures," Faxon said. "What's important to me is that these are real solid wood and real solid framery, which can last centuries, not like our modern structures whose focus is less expense in the building."

Faxon began his career constructing houses, doing finish carpentry and cabinetry, and making furniture. Twenty-five years ago, he founded Northwest Door and Sash in Eugene, and now employs 20 people in the production of wood doors and traditional sash windows with real dividers between the panes rather than fake divider strips laid over plate glass. Though traditional in design, the windows meet contemporary energy standards.

"I discovered that real wood joinery was my passion. I loved classical architecture and enjoyed problem-solving aspects of working with architects," he said, then added with a laugh, "Essentially, I was tired of schlepping tools."

His "Old World aesthetic" emphasizes fine craftsmanship using clear, vertical grain Douglas fir - the ubiquitous aluminum, vinyl and plastic of much modern mass production has no place at Northwest Door and Sash. Here, even the air maintains the aesthetically pleasing tradition of resinous, spicy-smelling milled wood.

Though he loves the site and the traditional style of the mill, Faxon said the building has presented some challenges, mainly because of the post and beam construction.

"We have to work around a few structural columns, but to be honest, I kind of like designing with some constraints. I feel that innovation in a limited space is more creative in the long run than in a space where anything goes ... We've expanded a bunch since moving here, and the great part is that, if we take out a wall, there's plenty of redundancy."

In other words, the roof won't fall in because there's plenty of structural support.

The old mill is nearing its 100th birthday and is likely to last well beyond that. Faxon predicts that many transformations still lie ahead.

"It could be anything," he said with enthusiasm. "That old crane shed could be perfect for the right business. I've always thought it would work great for a co-op winery."
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Title Annotation:Springfield Extra
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 27, 2008
Words:878
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