In the early 1700s,The Mills at Green Hole was indeed a working mill. Before Columbia County even came into official existence (that went down in the late-1780s), the Claverack site was a hub for chopping lumber and grinding grains. It ran on power from the nearby Agawamuck Creek, which winds through the property and powers its two waterfalls.
Over the years, the Hudson Valley mill had its highs and lows. After welcoming two new turbines in the 1880s and a cider mill in 1904, it suffered a serious blow when flooding during a hurricane in 1938 demolished the stone dam and grist mill. A devastating loss, it signified the end of water power on the property for quite a long time.
And then Stephen Formel arrived. A former shipping captain, Formel acquired a hands-on education in the construction industry under his father, an industrial general contractor. Over the years, he transitioned out of construction and into shipping in Puerto Rico, where his family lived in the 1970s. By the time he sold his shipping business in 1990, he was ready to return stateside and reunite with his family. As he scouted around the Berkshires, he came across an old cider mill in Claverack that had belonged to the same family since 1832.
“We looked for places near to the Berkshires to be near family and found the Old Barton Cider Mill property for sale in Claverack,” he recalls. “I had always had at least a vague interest in water power, certainly the romantic aspect of it. We purchased the property with the intention of returning it to water power and, over the next 10 years, that is exactly what I did.”
When he says 10 years, he isn’t exaggerating. After spending more than four years in and out of offices to obtain the necessary building permits, he commenced construction on a new dam. It was a time-intensive process, but, by the end of it, Formel had his very own working concrete dam, with a modern turbine to distribute the power. With the dam in place and the turbine up and running, he was finally able to bring to life his vision for a fully water-powered, operational cider mill and saw mill in 2001.
Yet after being on land for so long, the longtime seafarer craved a return to the water once more. Upon wrapping construction in Claverack, he journeyed back to Puerto Rico to start another shipping company and stayed there until 2011, when he retired for good. Back in the Hudson Valley, he devoted his efforts to further renovations on the property. He turned his dilapidated, rambling farmhouse into an honest-to-goodness home with electricity (there was only rudimentary power before) and added a woodfired brick oven for himself in the kitchen.
Formel quietly opened The Mills at Green Hole in 2014, although it wasn’t until summer of 2019 that he began to spread the word about tours and events on the grounds in earnest.
One look at the landscape, and you’ll be so glad he did.
A true hidden gem in the Hudson Valley, The Mills at Green Hole sits in a corner of Columbia County that remains yet untouched by development. The property is something of an upstate Eden, with rolling, verdant grounds that flow freely into forested hillsides and rippling waters. Speaking of waters, they’re the true pièce de résistance on the grounds. The Mills has not one, but two waterfalls, along with three glittering emerald swimming holes. Together, they power the Mills’ claim to fame, its working saw and cider mills powered by a real-deal dam and turbine.
So what is there to do at The Mills?
Quite a bit, Formel explains. When the property opens for its summer season from mid-April to mid-October, he invites guests to call ahead for group and private tours to see how the mills cut wood and crush apples without using an ounce of electrical energy. He also takes visitors through his working garden and over to his apple orchards, pear trees, and chicken coop. From there, it’s onto the Mills’ micro-paradise at the three swimming holes and waterfalls. With emerald hues that need to be seen to be believed, the waters are a photographer’s dream.
No, they’re not open for swimming, Formel adds.
They are the perfect backdrop for wedding photos though. Recently, Formel opened The Mills at Green Hole as an outdoor wedding venue during the warmer months. With ceremony location options at the barn by the garden or the stream by the swimming holes, the destination is stunning for would-be summertime brides and grooms. Packages begin at $5,000 and the grounds can accommodate up to 150 guests.
“When people see this place, they’re astonished,” he says, noting that the actual dropping of jaws is not unheard of. For day visitors, the chance to step back in time and experience the world of electricity-free production is a novel one. “There’s a visual aspect of the entire operation that you don’t see elsewhere.”
To add to the visual experience, Formel plans to build a honeymoon cottage across the creek with a view of the lower waterfall. It will be accessible via, as he describes it, an Indiana Jones-esque suspension bridge that traverses the creek.
Curious about The Mills at Green Hole? Visits begin in April, and we can’t imagine the upstate beauty will remain a secret for all too long.
The Mills at Green Hole
2136 County Rte 11, Claverack