A few miles north of Amherst we found Montague, driving slowly through the sleepy town to try and find the Book Mill, a bookshop that we had heard about that claimed to offer the winning combination of “books you don’t need, in a place you can’t find.” In the end it was not too difficult, as we followed the map until we reached the point where it crossed the Sawmill River and there it was, painted red and clinging to the embankment above the rapids that rushed beneath the road.
Stepping inside we found a treasure trove of used books, in a number of different rooms that all seemed to be on different levels, with low ceilings and reading corners tucked away on window ledges or under the eaves. There were tables, where people spread out their papers and got on with some work surrounded by millions and millions of words, and when they were stuck, or in need of sustenance, they headed down to the pub on the downstairs level, for a sandwich and a beer and a view over the river. The selection is large and varied, and it would take days to really work your way through the shelves. It is hard to imagine a more perfect bookshop.
The first building on this site was built in 1832 as a gristmill, where families from Montague and the surrounding towns would come to the banks of the Sawmill River to get grain, which was delivered by railroad cars and ground into flour. The power of the river turned the stone grinding wheels, as it would later be harnessed to start the turbines that would be used by the Martin Machine Company that bought the site in the 1930s and would continue manufacturing here until 1987 when the company moved to Turner Falls.
And then came the books… and although the Book Mill has changed hands a number of times over the years it remains locally owned, and alongside the bookshop and the pub there is a restaurant with a terrace looking out over the river, a music store and the Sawmill River Arts – a collaborative fine art and fine craft gallery. You can read more about the history of the building and the different activities that take place there on the website, but I can only urge anyone that finds themselves in eastern Massachusetts to take the road north from Amherst to Montague, and look out for the mill by the river… it is a place you can most definitely find, and I am sure you will find a book or two that you most definitely need…
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig