Miss Porter’s School – Marrying Past with Present

Post Originally Written By James Barrett, AIA. LEED AP BD + C

In the center of Farmington, over the Farmington River, stands the town’s historic Grist Mill. Constructed in the 17th century to serve the local farming community, it has had many uses through the years, most recently as a popular restaurant.

The mill portion of the is located on posts over the waterway that originally drove the water wheel. This affords the building occupants a fantastic view of the river. By adaptively using the mill as their Admissions Office, new owner Miss Porter’s School makes a strong statement, as this building is now the new front door of their campus.

Historic Charm

The interior of the mill still has the original posts and beam structure and remnants of the original machinery exist on the upper level. The charm of a building this old is that nothing is level, straight or plumb compared to the tolerances we expect today. Some of the floors slope four inches within a space. 

Vision to Transform

Miss Porter’s acquired the mill and appointed Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc. (DRA) to provide planning and architectural design services. The initial work included a feasibility study to explore the condition of the building and determine the viability of the proposed renovations. Working with O&G Industries of Torrington, Connecticut, the scope of the work was defined to achieve an acceptable project budget for the School before drawings and specifications were prepared for construction. Construction activities were overseen by O&G.

The completed project brought out all the charm of the original construction and created a very intimate space. The goal of the design team was to create an environment capable of making any prospective student and her family feel very comfortable and “at home”. The larger spaces, still with the original low wood ceilings, are remarkable for the magnificent views that the large windows provide of the Farmington River. The opposite bank of the river is a natural, wooded setting free of any buildings, making this a truly unique location. The windows are operable, granting visitors both sight and sound of the waterfall below, which the Admissions Director noted helps calm anxious families immediately upon arrival. 

The exterior of the building required considerable repairs and refurbishing o the siding, roofing, windows, and doors. The project also included new construction to create a main entrance with a stronger sense of arrival, all serving to better unify the building. The goal was to repurpose a building to be used by Miss Porter’s School for decades to come, continuing a presence on the Farmington River that was first established with the construction of the original Grist Mill in the late 1600s.

The site work was developed was developed by Berkshire Design Group of Northampton, Massachusetts. The parking lot was already terraced but the lower terrace had to be expanded and made accessible. Views of the river were again emphasized by creating a patio made of Unilock Richcliff and Town Hall pavers, edged with a stone wall, the two terraces with Chelmsfield Grey granite treads. Sidewalks at the top and bottom of the stairs continue the pavers found on the patio. Serendipitously, the re-designed grass area provides a lovely outdoor gathering are for school functions. The finished project is a building befitting one of New England’s premiere independent schools. 

Drummey Rosane Anderson (DRA) provides strategic planning, programming, and architectural design services for communities, insitutions, and companies who are considering their options for future use, growth, and development. We listen, learn, and create.