LEXINGTON — Twelve Mile Creek turned the turbines of Lexington Manufacturing Company well into the ‘60s, providing the power needed to turn more than 200 looms and 7,000 spindles that spun raw cotton into mattress covers and cloth. '
Now the long-dormant mill could soon be put back to work — this time making beer.
Once the multimillion-dollar rebuild of the dam at Old Mill Pond in downtown Lexington is complete, either late this year or early next, Hazelwood Brewing Company owner Matt Rodgers plans to use the refurbished hydropower turbine to brew up his farm-to-pint style suds.
Rodgers’ business partner and landlord, Laban Chappell, first approached him seven years ago with the idea of reconstructing the turbine to provide power to the retail and restaurant businesses housed in the renovated mill building. He wanted Rodgers’ microbrewery concept to be a part of it.
Then came the Midlands historic flood of 2015.
During the first week of October that year, up to two feet of rain fell in parts of the Midlands and South Carolina over two days, causing 19 fatalities and leading to nearly $1.5 billion in damages, according to the National Weather Service. More than 50 dams busted from the pressure of the swelling floodwaters, including the one at Old Mill Pond.
“They were about one week away from throwing the switch and then the flood happened,” Rodgers said, rendering the turbine useless without the water needed to turn it.
Chappell, a Charleston-based real estate developer, said it has taken the last five years to get the necessary state permits and hire a contractor. Reconstruction work started this summer.
The hydropower the Old Mill provided was what first hooked Rodgers on starting Hazelwood, though in 2013 it was just a dream. He'd been brewing for Old Mill Brewpub upstairs.
"I'd look out window and saw this place every day," he said. "I'd been down here, snuck in and crawled under the door."
Why not, Rodgers thought.
“We’re in a cool building with the resources right here in front of us,” he said. “We’d be foolish to not use what’s already here."
Rodgers first introduction to the green lifestyle came when he helped his father construct an off-the-grid house in Mexico, powered with solar power and propane, where they would stay while traveling for business, providing refrigeration for vegetable production at large farms south of the U.S. border.
Plus being “a young stubborn kid wanting to try new things,” he brought sustainable farming practices, including drip irrigation, solar power and composting, to the family farm. He handpicks the hops for his brews, five pounds at a time, where they grow at his brewery's namesake farm along the Wateree River near Camden.
“The world is a changing place and it’s good to try to stay ahead of it,” Rodgers said. “We want to make clean beer."
When dam reconstruction is complete and the pond refills, Rodgers hopes to hang an electric meter inside his brewhouse showing the power being produced. Customers already don't have to look far for evidence of his "sustainable" business practices. Two of the tanks he uses for brewing are recycled — one was used to make Campbell's soup and the other once made ketchup.
Laban said he's not sure how much power the turbine will ultimately produce. That will be based on waterflow through Twelve Mile Creek. But he still views the refurbished turbine as an asset to the town.
He plans to redo the facade with a glass wall visitors can walk up to and see water flowing through the turbine. And he's collected various electric panels and meters off other old hydrogenerators to use as educational tools.
In 2004, when Laban bought the Old Mill, the building was in rough shape. It took major investments just to make the space leaseable. As more businesses moved in though, the idea of restoring the turbine became more reasonable.
"It's just one of those challenges you figure, 'Yeah, give it a go,' because it's a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity," he said.
Despite the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus, Laban said most of the businesses in the Old Mill are doing well. He's excited to complete the pond so his brewpub tenant can once again enjoy deck seating out over the water and the brewer can have a nice beer garden on the earthen dam. He also has some nearby acreage left for further development.
In conjunction with the dam rebuild, the city is funding a $1.5 million lighted and paved path around the pond that city spokeswoman Laurin Barnes fits well with the municipalities downtown redevelopment efforts. The town, one of the fastest growing in the Midlands, has invested heavily in road improvements, an amphitheater and a farmers market pavilion meant to provide entertainment and draw customers to Main Street businesses.
On the far shore, a 100- to 120-lot townhome development by Columbia-based LandTech is in the planning and permitting process, according to CEO Kevin Steelman, along with the possibility for some single family homes. Paths within the neighborhood will tie into the trail.
"It's just a great infill location to add housing to the downtown area, where there's just a lot going on," Steelman said.
And the Old Mill Pond will add to the area's appeal. Steelman expects lots to be available this time next year, with the neighborhood building out over the following two to three years.