Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

April 22, 2020

Plan to turn former Skowhegan mill into brewery still on track

Photo / Maureen Milliken Bigelow Brewing Co. in Skowhegan hopes to have its brewery and tap room in the former Solon Manufacturing building at 7 Island Ave. in Skowhegan by fall.
Where is Bigelow Brewing Co.'s new building?
More Information

Bigelow Brewing Co. has been operating out of a renovated barn on owners Pam and Jeff Powers' Skowhegan property since opening in 2014.

The 1,700-square-foot space has served the brewery well, and the Powers went from 64 barrels of beer that first year to 1,800 in 2019. By fall, the company hopes to be brewing out of new space downtown and producing at least double current levels.

The couple bought the 80,000-square-foot former Solon Manufacturing building on Skowhegan Island in November, and are developing the first floor for a brewery and tap room that could open this October. It's the first phase of a plan that may ultimately include residential space on upper floors and a restaurant on the fourth floor.

The 17,000-square-foot first floor of the brick mill on the bank of the Kennebec River, overlooking downtown across the falls, will initially include the brewery, tap room and a place to buy Bigelow Brewing merchandise. But it's a lot of space, and there could be also more retail there eventually.

"It's all in the planning right now," Pam Powers told Mainebiz Wednesday. "We have a few ideas of what we'd like to do with the space."

Grants, plans and COVID-19

Things have happened fast in the five months since the couple closed on the property.

In February, the project got $50,000 in tax increment financing funding from the town, and earlier this month the project was awarded a $32,590 grant from the Maine Development Foundation. That grant, part of the RevitalizeME program, will allow the architect, Artifex, of Bangor, to figure out structural issues that will allow them to begin to firm up what will happen with the rest of the space.

On top of it, they were also approved for a federal Payroll Protection Program loan that has allowed them to reopen the brewery this week after they shut down late last month because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The pandemic, so far, hasn't slowed their plans for development of the building, the Powers said.

The former mill, built in 1922, was most recently a Chapter 11 Furniture store. Before that, though, it was the first electrified mill in the city, employing hundreds while it first produced yarn, and later wood products.

The building is in a prominent entry point to the town, an island in the Kennebec just southwest of downtown, crossed by U.S. Routes 201 and 2. More than 23,000 cars a day pass the building, which is on 1.4 acres and has spectacular views of the river and downtown and crashing falls next to its large parking lot.

Playing a major role

The prominence of the former mill, and the Powers' plans will be a big boost for the town, said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan.

Cannon said "it's a great building with good bones, I can't wait for it to be the centerpiece of our community."

The redevelopment an important project for town and region in many ways, she said. "It will play a major role in Skowhegan's revitalization, and we expect that it will catalyze other investment in Skowhegan."

Specifically, she said, it will "create new places to live, eat, shop, and socialize for people spending time downtown, on our trails, or in our future whitewater paddle and surf river park." She said it will will also provide space for entrepreneurs to take advantage of new business opportunities that will emerge as a result of the development of the Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area, the town's $4.9 million project that's also expected to provide a big economic boost for the region.

Since opening in 2014, Bigelow Brewing Co. has become a fixture in the community, partnering with local producers and also lending its name and product to community causes. The Run of River has been part of that.

Last fall, as part of Skowhegan Savings Bank's 150th anniversary celebration, the bank and brewer collaborated on On the River Ale, a limited production brew that raised money for the project.

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Bigelow Brewing Co. plans new outdoor space overlooking the falls on the Kennebec River.

A long process

Initially, the Powers expect about 4,000 square feet of the first floor to be the tasting room, and plan to development outdoor space overlooking downtown and falls for good-weather seating as well. Eventually, Jeff Powers said, they plan a restaurant and roof deck on the fourth floor. "That has the most spectacular views," he said.

Eventually, they plan to turn their current restaurant and brewery on Bigelow Hill Road into an event center.

"We get a lot of people asking about weddings," Jeff Powers said.

But they both said that's all in the future. The one definite plan is the brewery and tap room. The rest of the project depends on on a lot of things, including what happens with the coronovirus pandemic. But also, the types of things that come with development an old mill.

They are hoping to get the mill listed on the National Register of Historic Places so they can apply for Historic Preservation Tax Credits to help with renovations.

"It's a long process," Pam Powers said.

But the Powers are optimistic. The community has been behind them since the beginning, and they said that's what makes their expansion possible.

"It's all about community," Pam Powers said. "Well, it's about the beer and community, but we couldn't do it without the community."

Both the Powers are Skowhegan natives. Pam said that, as a local educator before she and her husband got into the brewing business, she thought she knew the community. "But I feel more connected to the community than I ever have before. They've been amazing."

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF