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Miss Porter's Grist Mill Renovation
From Grist Mill, to Residence, to Restaurant, to School

By Rachel Loeffler, RLA, ASLA, Landscape Architect, Berkshire Design Group


Landscape architecture firm The Berkshire Design Group was hired to design the new paving scheme for Miss Porter's School's new admission building. Situated on the banks of the Farmington River in Farmington, Connecticut, the new pavers replace an asphalt parking lot that extended through the plaza.


The site of a former gristmill, historic elements were kept both in the renovation of the building and the renovation of the hardscapes. This millstone was found on site and is believed it be one of the originals from the mills operation in 1690. It was laid into the 'Town Hall' brick-style Unlock pavers. Roughly 2,600 square feet of the 'burnt clay' and 'old oak' colored pavers were used in the courtyard.

A building that stands the test of time may house multiple uses over decades and centuries. The new admissions building at Miss Porter's School is a prime example of an old building being valued for its heritage and being brought back to life by integrating it into its contemporary surroundings. Originally a gristmill on the east bank of the Farmington River, the building was built in 1690 to process grain for the town. Heavy timber framing, wood shingles, a gabled roof, and piers that extended into a bypass channel of the river have captivated many over the past 300 years. The structure originally housed the gristmill, eventually was sold and turned into a residence. Then it was transformed again into a series of boutique shops such as gold leafing, fabric stores, a gallery, a bookstore, and small cafe. In its most recent iteration, it was the site of a very successful restaurant called the Grist Mill. In 2012 the restaurant moved to another town and by 2014 the property was sold and donated to Miss Porter's School, which bordered the property to the East, West, and South.

Located in Farmington, Connecticut, since 1843, the campus is centered just south of the Farmington River. Miss Porter's School is a day and boarding school for roughly 350 girls grades 9- 12. The campus is integrated into the town of Farmington; many of the streets connect to other neighborhoods surrounding the campus. The campus itself retains the town character with stately homes, open lawns, and connective walks. Prior to 2014, the Admissions Building was located along Green Street, with minimal access and parking. With the donation of the Grist Mill on the banks of the Farmington River, Miss Porter's undertook the renovation of the building to transform it into their new admissions building.

Many of the historic features were preserved in the renovation. Original beams and much of the structure was left exposed on the interior to showcase the building's heritage. Updates in the interior included new energy efficient windows, salvaged wood flooring, updating the heating and cooling systems, and updating the restrooms and offices. The exterior of the site was transformed from one continuous asphalt parking lot into an arrival garden with an accessible walk. Monumental granite stairs connect the building's new main entrance to an upper parking lot. A unitized paver walk connects ADA spaces to the front entrance. A raised planter filled with groundcovers, bulbs, and shrubs frame views out to the river. The paved plaza is sized to hold events. An ornamental rail is repurposed and expanded at the edge of the terrace. Adjacent to the plaza, a large lawn sized for event tents will serve as a destination for School celebrations. Between the upper and lower lots, a steep slope of evergreen junipers provides a contrast to the warm purples and red tones of the pavers. The plantings at the school have been selected to change throughout the seasons, and showcase color and texture during school events.


'Richcliff' pavers in a 'Dawn Mist' color create a border for the brick. A 'Rivercrest' wall with a ledgestone top creates a planter for daffodils, tulips, and dwarf red osier dogwoods. The retaining walls extend a total of 170 linear feet.


Both the stairs and the floral medallion set into the pavers at the school's front entrance are granite. The stairs connect the front entrance to an upper parking lot, while an ADA-accessible ramp reaches the lower parking lot to the right. The project was completed in August 2016.

The landscape and hardscape float over a bevy of utilities--each carrying their own clearance and protection requirements. The placement of steps, walls, and pavements had to be orchestrated to avoid impacting the town's sewer main just 18" below grade. As a project within the floodplain, each square foot of fill for the accessible walk had to be replaced with compensatory storage on site. Overall the project reduces the square footage of impervious surface onsite--transforming much of the asphalt into permeable paving and garden areas. Several stormcepter treatment devices treat sediment and oil coming from the upslope parking lots and improve water quality downstream.

The best time of day to visit the Grist Mill is just before sunset. Herons can be seen fishing in the Farmington River below. Trees are backlit with golden dappled light from the west. The space feels quiet and restful as the sound of moving water fills the space with a backdrop of white noise for one's thoughts. Sitting in one of the Adirondack chairs, feet in lawn or on the plaza, one feels grounded--with the anchoring of the slope to your back, and a prospecting view of the river beyond as it carves its way through historic channels heading east.

Team List:
Landscape Architect & Civil Engineering: Berkshire Design Group: Rachel Loeffler, Rick Klein, Chris Chamberland, Greg Henson
Architect: DRA Architects: Angela Cahill, Jim Barrett
General Contractor: O & G: Lee Donaldson, George Givens, Mike Brennan
Site Contractor: Richards Corporation: Tyler Doyle, D.J. Doyle
Landscape Contractor: Laurel Land Design: Christian Gombos

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October 20, 2019, 6:06 pm PDT

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