By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
The picturesque Gamble Mill. Photo: Provided.
Most Happy Valley residents know Gamble Mill.
Originally constructed in 1786 and known as Lamb Mill, the iconic structure in downtown Bellefonte became Gamble Mill in the early 1900s. It changed hands several times in the next decades, and offered a restaurant and then a brewpub in more recent history, before lying vacant for several years.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s one of the only remaining grain mills in Center County. The structure also retains its original 18th and 19th-century footprint and materials. In short, the picturesque property is a real gem and didn’t stay vacant for long. In 2019, Jonathan and Chris Virgilio recognized the historical value and purchased the property.
The Gamble Mill project wasn’t brothers Jonathan and Chris Virgilio’s first rodeo; the two have tackled historic restoration projects in the past.
“They did beautiful work in restoring this property — it’s the perfect combination of preservation with a modern twist and I think that’s what this whole community embraces."
“We restored the Farmers and Merchants Bank Building in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and my brother headed up renovations at the UVA Rotunda in Virginia,” said Jonathan, who is also a teacher at Bellefonte High School.
The two began the restoration project in 2019, but were temporarily stymied when the pandemic reared its ugly head and work slowed for a time. By August 2021, however, the brothers were ready to open the destination. They maximized the square footage from 3,000 to 15,000 square feet and made the mill a mixed-use building, which today houses five businesses: a gift shop named Smith + Front, a restaurant called Creekside at the Gamble Mill, a craft cocktail bar called The Republic, a small event space known as The Speakeasy, and The Gamble Mill Inn and Suites.
In the last two years, the development has seen significant success. In addition to receiving rave reviews from locals and travelers, in January 2023, the Bellefonte Historical Society recognized Jonathan and Chris at an event held by the Centre County Historical Society, presenting them with a John H. Ziegler Historic Preservation Award for their work at Gamble Mill.
“On our early trips to Bellefonte, it was very clear to us that this area, and specifically the renovated mill, would be a perfect place to see our vision come to life."
Jonathan, Chris and Jessica Lloyd oversee the speakeasy, as well as the Inn and Suites, which offer 16 guest rooms, but the remaining spaces within Gamble Mill attracted other business owners to set up shop in Bellefonte.
The cozy Speakeasy is available for special events. Photo: Provided.
Staci Egan, who owns Smith + Front, had originally been doing business in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, but chose to move to her Gamble Mill location about a year and a half ago, after a rent increase. Egan said that she was excited about the growth in Bellefonte and that the restoration and new concept of the Gamble Mill made it an easy move for the shop.
The business owner, who sells stationery, candles, bath and body products, plant accessories, her own line of jewelry and items her husband makes in his woodworking shop, said that she loves being in Bellefonte and doing business at Gamble Mill. “They did beautiful work in restoring this property — it’s the perfect combination of preservation with a modern twist and I think that’s what this whole community embraces,” she said.
“Things are definitely going to flourish when that project is done."
Michael Marx is a widely traveled chef and the owner of Creekside Restaurant. This is the chef’s fourth restaurant. In choosing a place to start his next venture, he said that it was important for the location to have some historical background. “I’m not a drywall, bright light, new kind of guy,” he said.
Beyond the space, though (and the fact that his in-laws live in the area), Marx said he was attracted to the region for its general business-friendliness. “Bellefonte is very accommodating to small business,” he said.
The Republic cocktail bar opened in late August of 2021. For owner Megan Marcaurelle-Jones, the opportunity to open a cocktail bar in Gamble Mill was one that was too appealing to pass up.
“On our early trips to Bellefonte, it was very clear to us that this area, and specifically the renovated mill, would be a perfect place to see our vision come to life,” she said.
One thing that all the businesses agree on at Gamble Mill is that the future looks bright for the area, especially with the advent of the Waterfront Development project, which will bring even more people to Bellefonte, with its planned restaurant, a hotel, a parking garage and more.
“Things are definitely going to flourish when that project is done,” said Chef Marx.