If you are a history buff, you will have a special interest in reading about the Old Mill complex because it has a very significant and interesting history. It was awarded a National Register designation by the US Department of the Interior for three reasons; Its age, its unique concrete construction, and its operation for many years as the largest wool and industrial lanolin plant west of the Mississippi river with a very sizable workforce operating on a 24/7 schedule.
The Old Mill is a very special complex of buildings that began nearly 100 years ago (1924) when the foundation was started for what would become the largest building and employer in San Marcos. A group of industrialists, mostly from out of town, decided to build a huge cotton mill on the far north side of San Marcos. They began construction on what was designed to be a three-story building using ultra-modern concrete construction methods. Not only did the building have a basement, which was highly unusual for any structure in the south, but it was also built with poured in place concrete, one of the first buildings using this new method of construction in Texas. Donkeys were used to pull plow buckets to dig out the basement and foundation. The new cotton mill was the talk of the town.
But it was not to be, at least not immediately. Just as the first floor was complete, a severe drought hit Texas and the cotton crop was a total failure. The money to complete the big project also dried up. Everything went idle.
In 1927 the cotton crop was great again and local townspeople gathered funding to complete the building, but they only had enough money to build two stories. Again, the new cotton mill was the talk of the town and was essentially complete in 1929. The cotton milling equipment was on its way when an even more severe drought hit most of Texas killing all the cotton and the idea for having a huge cotton mill in San Marcos. There was no cotton to mill. To make matters worse, 1929 was the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the great depression. The investors lost nearly everything. The new building sat mostly unused other than for storage, special events, and occasional dances with big-name bands.
In the late 30s, wool production had replaced cotton farming and a couple of businessmen from Dallas decided that the huge empty building in San Marcos would be a great place to process wool, scouring it in 165-foot long washing machines to remove the grease and dirt and selling it back East to manufacturers. The wool scouring industry was then born in San Marcos bringing in hundreds and then thousands of tons of local wool and wool from all over the south by train. Water was plentiful with a direct supply line from the nearby springs. As World War II started, the mill even opened a blanket weaving facility to make blankets for the troops. Cen Tex Wool became Bollman Industries, employing over 100 people and operating 24/7. Bollman became the largest wool processing facility west of the Mississippi River. Three additional buildings were built, one of which was used exclusively to make wool hats for men and women. The San Marcos wool mill was thriving.
The end of the wool mill came gradually as man-made fibers began to replace wool. Business fell off through the late 70s, and the Bollman Wool Mill finally closed for good in 1985. The property was put up for sale and the expectation was that all the buildings would be demolished.
In 1988, after careful study of the concrete and metal buildings, the abandoned wool mill was purchased to initially provide space in part of the main building to manufacture a group of special products for sale to professional photographers. The 650 broken windows were replaced and creative ideas were used to significantly enhance the appearance of the exterior of the buildings before beginning a total remodeling of the interior. Work then began to subdivide additional vacant space into offices and work areas for lease. The Old Mill name was chosen and a totally new life for the old wool mill began with more activity today than ever before. Nearly two hundred people now work at the Old Mill complex and hundreds of visitors every day.
Initially, only the upper floor of the main 101 building was remodeled then followed by subdividing the lower floor into more offices and work areas. An elevator was installed to make both floors easily accessible although both floors have ground-level entrances. The two nearby buildings with 12,000 square feet in each were developed, one into offices and the other into a plastic injection molding manufacturing facility. The 15,000 square foot metal warehouse building was also made available and is now JCO Janitorial Supply and VYM GYM.
Because the Old Mill is next to the Union Pacific railroad tracks and already had a railroad siding, the historic rail cars were brought in to serve a variety of purposes including a site for meetings, dinners, and special events and storage. The dining car served as a church on Sundays for several years. The business operating philosophy of The Old Mill has always been to offer a very diverse variety of high-quality lease space at the lowest possible rates.
The Old Mill complex has seen many tenants, some of whom stayed for many years. Cedar Creek Associates, a group offering psychological services, has been a tenant at The Old Mill for more than 25 years, progressively moving to larger and larger space. Cole Pediatric Therapy began in a single suite at The Old Mill and now is one of the largest tenants. The original tenant, the photography company known as Virtual Backgrounds, thrived for many years and still maintains an office.. Professional photographers from around the world came to The Old Mill for multiday training workshops to learn to use the specialized equipment that was manufactured there. Every day the workshop attendees had lunch on the historic railroad dining car and partied there in the evenings. The company, Pixel Magic, was born at the Old Mill and became a leading company in creating digital imaging photo stations which quickly became popular in photo stores and then in big box retail stores and drug stores. Pixel Magic was purchased but still has a satellite administrative office at The Old Mill. The imaging system is sold worldwide. Today, every Walgreens store and many other retailers have a digital imaging system that originated in The Old Mill.
The Old Mill houses the administrative offices for the San Marcos public schools, a physical therapist, Vim Gym, a solar panel company, X8 Drum, several health related companies, a health professional training academy and a number of other companies. The Old Mill facility is continually being upgraded as it gets ready to start its second century.
Once seen as being located “way out in the country”, The Old Mill is now surrounded by apartments and residences with several thousand students living within easy walking distance and thousands more within a mile or two. As a result, part of the original 12-acre site is now the home of Phase I of a new shopping center complex, Mill Street Crossing, with the primary tenant being Mill Street Market. Mill Street Market is a super convenience grocery store offering fresh produce, meats, general groceries, beverages, a deli, and fuel. Other tenants will fill out Phase I and then Phase II will be built with plenty of open space remaining for additional development.
The Old Mill complex of buildings clearly demonstrates the value of preserving historic structures. It continues today as a strong community institution with a fascinating past and a bright future.