Project yields a bit of Gaithersburg history
By Danielle E. Gaines
Thursday, December 16, 2010; T15
Tova Fliegel hoped that replacing an old retaining wall would give her some relief from flooding on her property.
She didn't expect it also would unearth a piece of Gaithersburg history - a big piece.
On Nov. 10, as Fliegel and a city employee looked on, a backhoe clanged against a 7,000-pound flywheel from the former Gaithersburg Milling and Manufacturing Co., buried less than 10 feet below the surface of her property on East Diamond Avenue in Olde Towne.
The wheel, 91 inches in diameter and a foot wide, was part of a steam engine that crushed grain and other products into flour, animal feed and fertilizer, according to city records.
"I ran into it full throttle. It was kind of a shocker to me," said Justin Testerman, the 27-year-old Greencastle, Pa., man who was operating the backhoe. "I've been doing this for 10 years, and I have never, never seen anything like this."
The wheel probably dates to 1891, when the mill complex was first built, or 1903, when it was rebuilt after a fire.
The building burned in 1910 and was not rebuilt, said Gail Smith, a docent at the Gaithersburg Community Museum.
"It seems to me that this could have been left in the rubble," Smith said.
Gaithersburg Milling and Manufacturing, founded by Ignatius T. Fulks, became one of the wealthiest businesses in Montgomery County, Smith said. Four other mills were clustered along the train tracks in Olde Towne. The mills were run by steam-powered engines, Smith said.
The flywheel uncovered at the Fliegel Building- a small retail building that Fliegel owns at 115 E. Diamond Ave. - came from a Corliss steam engine, Fliegel said.
She plans to sandblast the rust from the wheel and have it repainted. The new retaining wall is almost complete at the back of her lot, including a one-foot ledge at the bottom, which will become the wheel's final resting place.
"Part of my purpose in displaying it on my property is to continue Gaithersburg history further down Diamond Avenue," Fliegel said. "I'm hoping this is one small way to do that. I just think it will be an interesting signature piece for the neighborhood."
The wheel would not have been discovered were it not for a $1.5 million lawsuit Fliegel filed against the city in 2008, claiming that storm-water runoff from improvements to a city-owned parking lot in Olde Towne caused substantial harm to her neighboring commercial parking lot, retaining wall and storm-water system.
A confidential settlement was reached this year, resulting in the current construction.
"It's nice that out of a conflictual situation, we could find a piece of Gaithersburg history," Fliegel said.
The wheel has been sent to a warehouse for safekeeping over the winter and will be painted and sealed when the weather gets warmer, Fliegel said.
"I don't think the flywheel has a real historical value in a way that would cause it to be displayed in the Smithsonian, but it is an interesting historical object and a piece of Gaithersburg history," Fliegel said. "They don't make those things anymore."