Bridgewater Mill co-ownership standoff ends when one buys out two others

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-25-2022 6:21 AM

BRIDGEWATER — After years clashing with each other, the majority owners of the Bridgewater Mill have thrown in the towel and sold their stake in the historic property to the family that owns Plymouth Artisan Cheese.

Adriana Curutchet and her husband, Jireh Billings, have sold their portion of the Bridgewater Mill to a limited liability company registered to Jesse Werner, whose family owns the cheese company based in Plymouth, Vt., town real estate records and state corporation records show.

Jesse Werner’s father, Leo Werner, acquired a ground-floor space in the mill building in 2017, a former ski shop that has been vacant since Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Curutchet and Billings, as the Bridgewater Mill’s biggest owner and through the building’s property manager, Old Mill Marketplace Association, had been involved in multi-year legal wrangling with Leo Werner over unpaid association dues. As part of the sale of their portion of the building to Jesse Werner’s Route 4 Makers Mill LLC, the litigation has been dropped, Curutchet said.

“We closed on the sale last week,” Curutchet confirmed on Tuesday to the Valley News, adding “it is the best decision to bring peace to everybody. We never had the same vision. It’s good to have someone young with a business develop it.”

Neither Jesse Werner or Leo Werner returned messages for comment, although the speculation has long been that the family would use their share of the building, which now totals 75% of the building’s 69,000 square feet, to expand their cheese business.

Before the sale, the Bridgewater Mill was divided into four separately owned commercial spaces of varying sizes, one co-owned by Jireh Billings — who with his brother, Frank Billings, owns the Woodstock store F.H. Gillingham and Sons — and a second unit owned by a nonprofit run by Curutchet. Both units comprised the middle portion of 18th-century national historic building, where looms once made blankets for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Together, Route 4 Makers Mill LLC paid $563,000 for Billing’s and Curutchet’s two units, according to Bridgewater Town Clerk Nancy Robinson, citing the deed transfer filed with the town — less than their $643,500 assessed value.

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A third three-floor unit on the east end of the building, accounting for 25% of the square footage, is owned by furniture and pottery maker ShackletonThomas and encompasses a furniture workshop, company business office and retail sales floor. The ShackletonThomas portion is not involved in the sale Curuchet’s and Billings’ portion to Route 4 Makers Mill LLC.

The three separate owners had been uncomfortably co-existing for several years, trading complaints and arguing over the mill’s maintenance and unpaid association fees, as well as delinquent tax and sewer payments to the town. Three years ago the town, after the association had accumulated an unpaid sewer bill, moved to put the Bridgewater Mill up for tax sale.

But on Monday the town received a check for $26,811 for the delinquent tax bill, said Joni Kennedy, the town’s tax collector. She said the building is also current on its property taxes.

Along with becoming the majority owners of the building, the Werners also acquire 15 tenants, including the U.S. Post Office and a Ramunto’s franchise, a jewelry designer, hair salon, a gilding studio, an architect’s office and several artists and writers in addition to rental storage units.

Two tenants will be vacating the premises, however, for a new home.

Curutchet said the thrift store she operates on the third floor, in addition to a weaving studio for fiber artists where her nonprofit teaches weaving skills and repurposes old T-shirts into rugs, table runners and scarves, will be relocated to another as-yet-undecided location.

On Tuesday, Curutchet said that sale of her and Jireh’s portion of the building was bittersweet but they had a sense of satisfaction, too.

“We feel very happy about being able to do what we did,” said Curutchet, whose nonprofit had been a tenant in the building before it bought in 2015 a section that had previously been owned by Billings, where he had operated a Bridgewater location of F. H. Gillingham’s. “We had almost no tenants. We were able to incubate all these businesses who are here now. The weaving studio recycles 22 to 28 tons of fiber a year. And we work with social service organizations to provide clothing to people who need it. We did a lot of charity.”

She promised, once her thrift store and weaving studio finds a new location, “that will continue.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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