Once dotted with dilapidated metal sheds, silos and a cotton gin dating to 1914, historic Buda Mill & Grain Co. in the Texas Hill Country is finding new life as a multifaceted, community-focused destination. Firmly entrenched in the history of Buda, Texas, the redeveloped site now offers more than 27,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and community-oriented space that brings locals and visitors together within a vibrant setting.
The complex is composed of multiple structures—a mix of old and new—including a renovated 106-year-old cotton gin building; large, renovated steel equipment shed; historic elevated grain augur; and vintage silos. The challenge was to preserve the bones of what was there while making the existing structures and new facilities a cohesive assembly to revitalize a once-bustling community and small town (population approximately 16,000).
First settled in the 1880s, as a railroad town, Buda now is one of the fastest-growing suburbs of nearby Austin. Buda is famous for its annual wiener dog races—the town officially is “The Wiener Dog Capital of Texas”—which attract visitors from across Texas and has helped define the relaxed, small-town vibe. In addition, Buda’s proximity to Texas Hill Country, which features scenic parks and is known for some of the best hiking, biking and adventure opportunities d for residents of more heavily populated cities in the area, has positioned Buda as a candidate for revitalization.
It was this potential that Buda Mill & Grain Co. owner Gay Dahlstrom (who died in 2014), daughter Dodi Ellis and grandson Saenger Ellis recognized, ultimately inspiring the redevelopment of the town’s historic feed and grain mill.
At one time, the mill served as the heart of the community, a place for business—picking up feed and grain—as well as for socializing with friends, family and neighbors. As the dynamic of the city’s economy changed, the mill eventually ceased operation and was used as grain storage for the U.S. government until it was purchased by Dahlstrom in 1963. As a community member invested in the future of her home city, it was Dahlstrom’s longtime dream to redevelop the site to once again provide Buda with a community hub. Dahlstrom started by renting parts of the mill to hobbyists throughout the 1990s, a precursor to the full renovation, which began in 2011.
“Gay envisioned entertainment, like a rollerskating rink, paired with casual food options, such as a hamburger joint, and we just updated those concepts to include yoga and a neighborhood coffee/bar to accommodate the needs of modern Buda,” explains Dodi Ellis.
With the bones of the site still mostly intact, Dodi and Saenger’s intention was to tackle one space at a time, but the city of Buda required a master site plan, which forced the mother-son duo to begin documenting their overall vision. The plan was developed with the notion of preserving the mill’s history while adding vitality and modern appeal with steel, poured concrete and repurposed equipment. “We keep saying we are looking back and moving forward and hope that’s what we’ve succeeded in doing,” Dodi says.
Once the master plan was complete, the next step was securing city approval and funding for the redevelopment initiative. Saenger gained an audience with the Buda Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and attained a $5,000 grant, enough to install a new roof on what now houses SalonOne12. Gay, Saenger and Dodi sold old construction equipment and sourced private loans, as well as acted as their own general contractor on the project. The project was eventually approved for a tax credit through the Buda EDC and city of Buda.
The response from the Buda community has been positive. While under construction, residents would sometimes check on the progress. “People would stop by to see what was happening and tell us their stories of buying grain at the feed store or how they once held a summer job, cleaning out the silos,” Dodi recalls. “We loved the sense that we were saving a part of Buda’s collective memory.”
Although the development, even in the early stages, faced no major opposition, Buda officials expressed some concern that the three blocks between the mill and downtown Buda was too far to attract sufficient foot traffic. Quite the opposite has proven true. “One of the most exciting changes we have seen in the past two years is the young families with their dogs and kids walking down to Nate’s [a tenant, serving sandwiches, coffee and cocktails] or heading to the downtown Buda Farmer’s Market,” Dodi says.
PHOTOS: PETER MOLICK