About Town: Montague’s Bookmill provides community, relaxation

  • Montague’s Bookmill “doubles as a community center and place to get away from family,” said owner Susan Shilliday. Recorder Staff/David McLellan

  • Montague's Bookmill "doubles as a community center and place to get away from family," according to owner Susan Shilliday. —Recorder Staff/David McLellan

Recorder Staff
Monday, June 11, 2018

MONTAGUE — For 184 years, that wooden building next to the Saw Mill River has been vital to the community.

In the 1800s, families traveled there by horse-and-buggy, carrying with them large bags of grain, and Alvah Stone would grind them their flour. And in the mid-20th century, business owners drove their automobiles to the old mill, buying machinery to imprint wood or metal products.

Even baseball bats for the local youth teams came from that building at 440 Greenfield Road.

Now, people go there to relax and read at the Bookmill.

The Bookmill’s motto is “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find,” and, talking to the owner and customers, that’s more or less true: The books are mostly old, and the Montague Center shop is off the beaten path for most of the region’s residents.

It’s essentially just an old bookstore opened in 1987, but people go for the ambience.

Walking into the store, the smell of thousands of dusty pages fills the nose. The waterfall roars outside, and people are lounging on couches and even a bed as they read books, drink coffee or write.

“It’s a beautiful spot on the river, an old building full of books,” said owner Susan Shilliday. “It’s my idea of heaven.”

Shilliday bought the store 11 years ago after a career in screenwriting — she had penned the screenplays for movies such as “Legends of the Fall” starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, and “I Dreamed of Africa” with Kim Basinger.

She fell in love with the Bookmill after her daughter introduced her to it while attending Hampshire College.

“People come here to do their work, read books or even write books,” Shilliday said.

Part of the Bookmill’s appeal is that it doesn’t fall perfectly into any one category. It’s a bookstore, but people use it as a library or work station. Twice a month, it’s a concert venue.

Next door is the Lady Killigrew Cafe, the Alvah Stone restaurant, the Turn It Up! music store, the Sawmill River Arts store and the Louise Minks art studio.

It’s a “special place,” Shilliday said, and people stay for hours to enjoy everything offered.

“It’s a bookstore, cafe, everything. It doubles as a community center and a place to get away from family,” Shilliday said.

The overflowing shelves of books — “everything from Austen and anarchy, to Zola and zoology” as the collection is described — is primarily bought from customers, who also sometimes donate books.

The diverse community of students, professors, retired people, local artists and more is reflected in the books lining the walls. A placard reading “amphibious aeroplane” in Chinese, with a guide on how to pronounce it, is tucked among the books.

“It’s just a charm,” said customer Tim Bresnahan, reading an old book on the quiet second floor and looking out over the river.

While the building’s ownership and purposes have changed several times in nearly two centuries, its iteration as the Bookmill seems just as vital to the community, even if it is just “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.”

“It’s lucky to have a place with everything offered,” Bresnahan added. “It’s just really perfect.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.