With its quaint half-timbered facade hovering surprisingly above the waters of the Seine below, the Old Mill of Vernon is at once enchanting and incongruous, inviting curiosity as to how in the world it got there.
Built in the 16th century, the mill was actually one of several, and the fact that it remains is about as unlikely as the sight of the building itself.
The mill was originally built on a bridge across the Seine that dated back to the 12th century. Initially constructed for military purposes, the bridge was subsequently repurposed for commercial activity and a total of five flour mills eventually sat upon its span. The mills were powered by water wheels that sat below the buildings, between the piers of the bridge, that could be raised or lowered with the varying level of the river.
Lacking proper maintenance and upkeep, however, the bridge deteriorated over time and was ultimately abandoned in 1651 after a flood caused structural damage that rendered the bridge unfit for use. By the time a new bridge was built a bit further upstream in 1860, a few of the northernmost piers and the Old Mill that they supported were among the last standing bits of the crumbling old bridge. The mill would incredibly go on to outlast the new bridge, which was strategically demolished in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, rebuilt in 1872, blown up again in 1940, rebuilt in 1941, and finally completely destroyed in 1944.
By the end of World War II, the Old Mill had sustained considerable damage and was in danger of collapsing. The people of Vernon took it upon themselves to restore and maintain the iconic structure, and thus it stands to this day as a unique timber monument of its time as well as the symbol of the city Vernon.
The Old Mill has long been a cultural touchstone of the area. French opera composer Jean Nouguès owned the building from 1925 to 1930, during which time he moored a barge near the mill where he hosted a dance club. Perhaps more famously, many artists have come to Vernon to paint the mill. Among them was even Claude Monet, who painted Maisons sur le vieux pont de Vernon (Houses on the Old Bridge at Vernon) in 1883. That painting now hangs in the New Orleans Museum of Art. Monet’s friend and son-in-law, the American painter Theodore Earl Butler, painted the mill in 1909. That painting is called The Red Bridge in Vernon near Giverny and is currently in a private collection.
Know Before You Go
The mill can be viewed at any time. It is not possible to go inside.