Your Historic Home Then & Now

Mountain City Mills building

The Delaplaine Arts Center

A century ago, who would have imagined that the imposing, industrial brick building abutting Carroll Creek would one day be a cornerstone of a vibrant arts district, nestled along a beautiful linear park? The historic building that houses the Delaplaine’s main galleries and classrooms was an important part of the Frederick County community long before it was transformed into a community arts center more than 30 years ago.

The building began as a whiskey rectifying house in the 1850s, and a few years later was converted to a steam flour mill. The mill changed hands a number of times over the succeeding years, becoming Mountain City Mills in 1906. That same year, the building endured the second of two devastating fires that it suffered during its years as one of the area’s largest mills.

In 1958, the property was acquired by the Great Southern Printing and Manufacturing Company and for decades thereafter served as a storage facility for the Frederick News-Post. In 1986, the mill property was donated by the Delaplaine and Randall families to the City of Frederick for use as a visual arts center. It was leased to the Frederick Art Center Foundation, which established The Delaplaine Arts Center, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the Delaplaine is proud of its part in preserving our region’s rich heritage while adapting this important landmark to serve the community in new and vital ways. That’s not to say that the building’s important history has been forgotten. Art classes are held in classrooms and studios that still contain remnants of past structures, and exhibitions are mounted in galleries that still display the “bones” of its industrial past.

The building’s first floor originally served as the beginning and ending point for the flour refining process. Here, millers received wheat supplies and deposited them into elevators that lifted the grain to the third floor for initial processing. The network of sophisticated elevators and steam- powered machinery refined the wheat into a high-quality flour as it passed from the top of the facility to the ground floor, where it was bagged.

Multiple rolling and grain refining processes took place on the second floor. The exposed gears and belts that still can be seen above the hallway could have been part of the grain elevator system. Mill offices also shared this space. During the fire of 1906, then-manager James H. Gambrill, Jr., managed to gain access to the building and secured the account books before leaping to safety through an office window. Now,that’s professional dedication!

The third floor served as the second step in the wheat’s journey to become flour: the major initial processing. The constant rolling, crushing, and grinding of grain produced excess dust and particles, which, when concentrated, could be ignited into a fiery blast by a single spark. Filtration was an important part of mill architecture, and two air purifiers still exist in the drawing and painting studio, another reminder of bygone days.

“Learning and observing art within a historical setting brings with it an awareness of the past that can’t be taught—it has to be experienced,” explains Thomas Canavan, the Delaplaine’s Director of Programs. “When we combine these experiences, we add depth to our artwork and to our interpretations of art, which deepens our understanding of the past and ultimately improves our decisions in the future.”

The next time you’re downtown, stop in the Delaplaine for the art, and stay for the history! We’re open daily, and admission is free.