If the walls of the old mill building on Ladd Avenue in Northampton could talk, they’d tell a story of transformation and times changed.
Constructed in the 1860s, the historic building has served as a factory for some of the most mundane, everyday objects, like cutlery and screws, as well as other more incendiary items, like assault rifles.
Gun manufacturer Yankee Hill Machine moved into the building roughly a century after it was built. For decades, the company called the old Florence mill home, producing firearms, silencers and other rifle accessories there until 2017 when it outgrew the site and moved to a new location in Easthampton.
But the old mill isn’t dead yet. Soon, the building will get a breathe of new life and a facelift in line with the modern economy.
That’s according to Charlotte Hanna, the CEO and founder of Community Growth Partners, who is eager to transform the 23,000-square-foot mill into a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in the months ahead.
Hanna’s no newbie to the industry, though. Last year, she opened Rebelle, a dispensary in Great Barrington. She’s planning to open up more sites in Berkshire County and working on getting a license to deliver cannabis products in Greater Boston and Springfield areas as well.
In the meantime, she’ll be setting up her newest cultivation site in Northampton. Her goal: to operate an equitable and profitable business, while reimagining the interior of a space where assault rifles were once fired for close to half a century.
“It’s gone through many transformations in its lifetime,” Hanna said about the old mill at 20 Ladd Ave. “The cannabis industry is all about revitalizing old paper and textile mills, the adaptive use of these old brick buildings that were a major part of the economic boom in these small towns during the industrial revolution.”
It’s a sign of a times in Hanna’s eyes that the mill is transforming in line with the current economic boom of recreational cannabis.
For her, producing a legal drug at the facility will be far more beneficial for the community than manufacturing firearm sound-suppression devices, more colloquially known as silencers. Massachusetts is one of eight states where owning such a device is illegal, she noted.
“Why an assault rifle needs a silencer baffles me,” Hanna told MassLive in an interview. “Why do we need this gun? It doesn’t need to exist in today’s society.”
Yankee Hill is currently located at 412 Main St. in Easthampton. Among the items listed for sale on the company’s website are gun silencers, complete rifles and AR pistols as well as top ends and receivers for firearms.
With the transition of the building’s use, Hanna had to go through a series of municipal hoops, ones she says the firearms manufacturer didn’t face.
“The thing that’s crazy is when I had to do my community outreach meeting, people were upset that we’d be growing cannabis there. They had no idea what it was used for before,” Hanna said. “The irony is that the gun silencer manufacturer didn’t have to undergo the same requirements to occupy the space we did. It’s crazy.”
Next Tuesday, Hanna will appear alongside Northampton David Narkewicz at the groundbreaking and flag-raising event at the Ladd Avenue site. Hanna believes the ceremony will mark the beginning of a new era in the city, “powerfully moving from bullets to buds,” she noted.
Massachusetts, and Northampton more specifically, are on the cutting edge of the recreational cannabis market, she says. In January, Narkewicz announced the small Pioneer Valley city wouldn’t be collecting the 3% community impact fee associated with marijuana businesses unless a specific impact crops up related to a particular company.
Narkewicz told MassLive the city has had ample experience with marijuana businesses and is in a place where it understands “how this industry operates.” Northampton is notably the first and only Massachusetts community to waive the community impact fee.
“Northampton in particular has been on the cutting edge of a lot of things,” Hanna said. “I hope this is a sign of the times.”
Particularly compared to Hanna’s home state of New York, which is slated only now to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis, Massachusetts, which legalized it three years ago, is ahead of the game.
“Relative to many other states across the country, Massachusetts has gotten a lot right,” Hanna said. “What I’ve been saying to New York state legislators and to anybody who can listen is that I have to travel three hours to go to work in Great Barrington and Northampton because of the oligopoly in New York.”
“I hope New York will watch and learn from Massachusetts,” she added.
In a statement, Narkewicz said he’s pleased and excited to welcome CGP to the city.
“This new cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility will create jobs and economic development, and the city is grateful to co-owners Charlotte Hanna and Marcus Williams for their investment in our city,” he said.
Narkewicz said he’s particularly proud Hanna and Williams are economic empowerment applicants, aligning with Northampton’s longstanding goal of promoting equity and inclusion in its local cannabis industry, he noted.
Equity and inclusion is on the top of Hanna’s mind too.
The new state-of-the-art cannabis cultivation site is expected to provide 50 new jobs in Northampton and employment opportunities for members of the nonprofit Roca, which helps create pathways into the cannabis industry for those negatively impacted by the marijuana laws of the past.
“We’re working with this incredible nonprofit that we teamed up with in 2019, Roca, that’s doing great work with young people who have gotten caught up in the criminal justice system,” Hanna explained “The young people from Roca work in my store in Great Barrington. They’re getting equity in my company, getting trained in the legal industry and getting hired.”
Some of her employees from Roca commute from Springfield and Holyoke to Rebelle in Great Barrington for work. Having a Northampton location will allow them to cut their commute down significantly, according to Hanna.
The Northampton cultivation site, which is expected to house CGP’s manufacturing and wholesale operations, will allow the organization to employ dozens more Roca participants to fill a variety of different roles, according to Hanna.
“We are thrilled to partner with forward-thinking companies like CGP to break the cycles of incarceration, racism and poverty create a job pipeline,” said Christine Judd, director of Roca Springfield and Holyoke. “This opportunity provides an unprecedented legal pathway to economic security in communities disproportionately ravaged by the economic impact of COVID-19.”
While the “beautiful” exterior of the old mill is expected to remain in tact, Hanna and her employees from Roca will be completely gutting the inside of the building, she said.
There are still remnants of the former firearms manufacturer in the old mill: bullet holes in the metal walls, casings with the word Bushmaster on the floor and gun silencers on the shelves in the facility.
Fossils of other businesses that once occupied the old mill remain as well, including those of the cutlery factory. Hanna found a fork in the dirt outside the building one time. Remodeling is “desperately needed,” she noted.
“Everything’s coming down,” Hanna said.