SABATTUS — Don Therrien’s father worked at Webster Rubber Co. Plant, same as his grandfather. In the 1970s, the mill whistle would sound every night. When it sounded during the day, volunteers like Don’s father hustled out the door to respond to fire calls.

Today, unless a life is at risk, Therrien, the town’s fire chief, says he wouldn’t send anyone inside the old mill to save it.

Beams holding up the floor have snapped. So much water has gotten inside that grass is growing on the hardwood. There’s broken glass everywhere and an open elevator shaft.

“When I was a kid, all the floors were up and running; there was a constant flow in and out of the place,” Therrien said. “It’s sad to see the mill go in the direction it’s gone. A good snow load on one of those roofs is going to make it collapse.”

For the second time in the former Webster Rubber Co.’s long history, the town has found itself owner of the crumbling mill at 10 Greene St. A tax lien matured last month and Sabattus automatically assumed the property, Town Manager Rick Bates said.

Now, selectmen have to decide what to do with it.

Next week, they’ll weigh spending what could be $20,000 for a fence and other measures to secure the building and purchase separate liability insurance.

At a 6:30 p.m. board meeting on Tuesday, officials would like to hear what the public thinks ought to become of the only property in Sabattus on the National Register of Historic Places.

“If it does have some significance to the community — and it seems like it does — once it’s down, we can’t replace it,” Bates said.

He estimated the main brick structure at about 50,000 square feet. Other outbuildings have been added over the years.

Its exact history is a little murky, owing in part, he said, to the lack of a town historical society. Sabattus property records indicate it was built in 1850, but the historic register and Sun Journal archives suggest 1869.

Webster was the town of Sabattus’ original name. The mill became Webster Rubber Co. in 1922, employing hundreds of people making rubber heels and soles for shoes. After it closed in the early 1990s and the town assumed ownership the first time, the mill was sold to puppeteers Pat and Wally Lathom in 1995 for $1. They spent several years restoring one of the outbuildings before opening the Showme Museum in 2002.

In 2006, they sold it to the nonprofit Downeast Dream Center.

“They weren’t able to do anything with the property and they weren’t able to pay the taxes — that’s how we acquired it a second time,” Assistant Town Manager Andrew Gilmore said.

The building and land are assessed at $829,500, an outdated value, Bates said. Up until two years ago, most of the windows were intact; now, most are gone and graffiti is scribbled inside.

Six weeks ago, “police were called out because kids were in there raising heck,” Gilmore said. “One of them ended up tossing a shovel at the officer and running out.”

First up is making sure no one goes inside, he said. “Step two is really to have the property evaluated for structural integrity and development potential.”

“The ultimate goal would be to have the property developed by private investors and returned to the tax rolls,” Gilmore said. “We don’t want the town itself saddled with a development role.”

Therrien remembers when it was one of the big employers in town, the sort of place people walked to work.

“My dad is still collecting a retirement out of it,” he said. “There’s a lot of people still in town that worked at that mill. To me, it’s a shame.”

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