Eagles buy Old Mill: Group aims to get wheel turning again

STRASBURG – After renting the basement of the building that housed the Old Mill Restaurant for 28 years, the Massanutten Aerie 4186 Fraternal Order of Eagles has purchased the entire building.

The property on Stover Avenue was previously owned by Peggy Lee Pappas. Doug Horn, acting treasurer for the Eagles, said the order was surprised when Pappas offered to sell the property.

“We were looking to renegotiate the lease and she came forward and said, ‘Hey, I’ll do you one better. I’ll give you an opportunity to buy the place,'” Horn said. “Basically, we got the entire building and the property for an additional 800 and some dollars a month.”

There was one caveat to the sale: the order would have to get the mill’s wheel up and running again. Horn estimates the restoration will cost $70,000, and he hopes it will attract new recruits and members from other aeries to visit.

(The Fraternal Order of Eagles adopted “aerie,” the ornithological term for an eagle’s nest, to refer to its individual chapters.)

In the meantime, members have been working on a volunteer basis to restore the mill building. The basement, which the order previously rented, is already operational, but the first floor needs painting, staining and replaced boards to become a viable non-smoking social room.

The upper floor is slated to house administrative offices.

The aerie also has plans to clear some of the woods between the mill and the river, opening space for a playground and to grant families easy access to kayak, go tubing or camp along the Shenandoah River.

Horn said he hopes these improvements will boost the image associated with the Massanutten Aerie.

“In the last four years … this particular club had kind of gotten away from it being kid-oriented. And little by little by little, we’re going to bring it back in,” Horn said. “We’re trying to break that old mentality that all we do is sell beer.”

Andrew Clem, president of the Massanutten Aerie, said their ultimate goal is to be a working good for the community, and not just be known as the local bar at the end of the town.

“The Fraternal Order of Eagles is a family organization,” Clem said. “Even though we have a social room that’s helped us build revenue, we’re all about trying to help the family, get the family members in, and pushing more outreach to young children.”

With the second level of the building opening to non-smokers and offering enough room for dancing, Clem envisions new cash flows coming in to bolster the chapter’s philanthropy.

“With those amenities, it helps us build enough revenue to give back to our charitable givings, because that’s who we are,” Clem said. “Our motto is ‘People helping people.'”

However, the twin goals of giving back to the community and breaking the bar-at-the-end-of-town stigma can be at odds with each other, since 10 percent of alcohol sales and gambling proceeds go back into the community. Drinking and gambling are “what actually pays the bills,” Horn said.

Still, Horn is confident both goals can be achieved. By opening more areas for socialization — which includes drinking and gambling — the aerie anticipates a boost in membership.

“The more people we put in the seats, the more money we make, the more money we’re able to dole out throughout the community,” he said. “There’s a lot of programs out there right now that we would like to help with, but we’re such a small venue right at the moment that it’s tough to make a true impact.

“Our goal is that if we put enough butts in the seats on both levels that we can afford that opportunity to reach out and help people.”

The Massanutten Aerie donates to the local food bank, Strasburg Midget League Football, Strasburg High School, Strasburg Volunteer Fire Department and Strasburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, among other charities.

The group aims to have the new floors open in January, one month after the chapter celebrates its 30th anniversary.