The old brick grist mill was once a cornerstone of pre-Revolutionary War life

Angelo Otterbein ’95 inside Manor Mill, left, and what it looked like before the renovations were underway, above.
Before & After: Angelo Otterbein ’95 inside Manor Mill, above, and what it looked like before the renovations were underway, below.
Photo: Courtesy of Angelo Otterbein ’95

Photo: Courtesy of Angelo Otterbein ’95

Nestled just next to a winding stretch of Monkton Road, across from the rushing Gunpowder River, sits an old brick grist mill that was once a cornerstone of pre-Revolutionary War life in this part of northern Baltimore County, Maryland. After stints as an antique shop and a cidery, the mill sat abandoned, the 300-year-old walls covered with mold and the floors lined with barrels full of cider turning to vinegar. At one point, a car took the turn on Monkton Road too fast, ramming into the door and leaving behind a gaping hole that someone partially covered with tarp, “like a tattered eye patch,” says Bolling “Bo” Willse, a Monkton resident. “It was the embodiment of loneliness.”

Along came Angelo Otterbein ’95 when the property was put up for auction in November 2019. Baltimore County zoning rules had put restaurants and large commercial ventures out of the running. Despite the lack of plumbing and the dead animals on the property (along with a beat-up motorcycle and a dinghy with sails), “I just saw that this place would be awesome,” says Otterbein, now the proprietor of the space that opened as the Manor Mill in the summer of 2021. “I saw beyond the mold and the cider,” he says. “You can feel it in the beams, in the scale of the place, in the fact that people congregated here 300 years ago.”

Otterbein was no stranger to restoration, having worked on his own house in Baltimore and the Monkton Hotel just down the street. Despite Otterbein’s experience in restoration and his entrepreneurial spirit — one year after graduating from Princeton, he started his own software company, Silverpoint, which he then sold to Finalsite, an educational software company of which he is now chief innovation officer — the mill was a project on an entirely different level. “My crazy-meter did go up,” admits Willse, who now does technology consulting for the mill, in addition to running a nearby organic turkey farm with his wife. “But Angelo was the person who could do this,” he adds. 

To make an already hard project harder, just months after Otterbein bought the mill, COVID-19 shut the world down. Yet, it brought people home — longtime residents and college students with more time on their hands drove down Monkton Road, and instead of just seeing an abandoned building, they saw Otterbein hauling garbage in his tractor. “They asked me what I was doing,” says Otterbein. “I said, ‘I just want to clean the place up.’”

Soon, an army of helpers joined Otterbein, some as volunteers, some for minimum wage. They pumped barrels and saved the cider that hadn’t yet turned. They scrubbed the walls in masks that protected them from the new virus and from the toxic mold. They sand-blasted the historic beams. They installed a plumbing and septic system. 

Lynne Jones, a local artist and leader in community preservation, led the effort to restore all of the glass window panes, about 800 pieces in total, and keep them historically accurate. One year after helping to restore the mill outside of her day job as a visual merchandising manager at Macy’s, Dinah Datsko asked Otterbein if she could pitch in at the mill to hold a celebration with friends. “Then a whole group of her friends showed up and got down to work,” says Otterbein. Datsko immediately began organizing the restoration projects, recruited her friends regularly, and helped manage high school interns and college kids who wanted to help. “When I saw what she could do, I realized what a rock star she was, and what the mill could be.” In the restoration alone, Otterbein was already sparking the creation of a community at the mill.

By the summer of 2021, the mill was ready to open, under its new name, the Manor Mill. But the question for Otterbein loomed: What was the Manor Mill going to be? 

“I loved the idea of people making, learning, and creating,” says Otterbein, who majored in English literature and completed the Teacher Prep program when he was at Princeton. The Manor Mill opened that July with an art gallery, various art workshops, and wellness/yoga classes. “We committed to supporting local artists through holding workshops and providing a space where they could share their craft with the community,” says Datsko, who is now the program director and retail manager of Manor Mill.

“It’s not just anyone who could have created this. Angelo is 50 going on 10 — he has so many ideas and is up for anything.”

— Lynne Jones
Local artist and leader in community preservation

“Manor Mill is a marvelous old building in a beautiful countryside location. Angelo has been ingenious in making the generous space fit a little bit of everything — pottery wheels, a gift shop, an art gallery, rooms for all sorts of workshops and lectures, and one of the best small music halls around, which hosts both jam sessions and pros on tour. I really think of it as a kind of community center,” says Madison Smartt Bell ’79, the featured author at the first monthly Prose Night at the mill. “You hear people say, ‘I feel at home,’ when they walk in,” adds local artist Jones, who managed the mill’s art gallery until last December. 

Now, the Manor Mill offers something nearly every day of the month, ranging from classes in watercolors, yoga, Western hat burning, and carpentry to concerts and film screenings to bigger themed events, like Jane Austen Day (May 18), and the Fish Show last fall, which featured exhibits of fish-related local art, glass-blowing demonstrations, and a seminar on protecting our waterways. At poetry night, high school students and people in their 80s get up and recite their poems at an open mic. In a yoga class, one can sit in lotus pose and gaze at a stunning painting on the wall. On a summer evening, the sounds of crickets and a cool night breeze provide the setting for a bluegrass concert in the loft. Datsko handpicks the gift shop inventory, known for its selection of locally crafted, hand-made artisan goods, crafting kits, and its dazzling array of penny candy at the register. “I want people to come in and be inspired,” says Otterbein. “You walk in, you’re inspired, you want to make something.” 

Jessi Wilson ’99 says, “I grew up in Baltimore County and much of my cultural and creative life here has revolved around driving into the city, which I love. But it’s so nice to drive in the opposite direction, too, and find a place with the same creative energy where I can read at an open mic one night, take a welding class another, and attend a concert a week later — all in the same place, next to a babbling stream, and under a sky dark enough to see the stars — neither of which the city has.”

Says Jones, “It’s not just anyone who could have created this. Angelo is 50 going on 10 — he has so many ideas and is up for anything.” Says Willse, “I’ve met a lot of leaders who lead from the top down. Angelo’s not like that. He has assembled a cadre of talented people, each with a different skill, each on board with the mission of the Manor Mill.”

What is it like driving on Monkton Road now, past the Manor Mill three-and-a-half years since Otterbein led the community to rescue it? 

“It’s like seeing someone you lost come back to life,” says Willse.