Gintaras Karosas' book LIUBAVAS (2010)

Restoration of Liubavas Manor Watermill

Principles of restoration and reconstruction

Restoration of Liubavas Manor watermill and its adaptation to the museum for me was the first work of this kind in the field of heritage. Several years spent learning about the heritage object were interesting as well as full of discoveries and valuable findings. Having analysed the technical project, I soon realised how easy it was to lose the essence of the building and destroy its valuable qualities without going deeper into and capturing the object and its specificity.
I did not want to see this building ending up like many of the heritage objects undergoing restoration - they often lose their authentic aura, even if it is technical heritage; sometimes they become just a collection of malfunctioning fragments of the former equipment.

I could not find any documents or drawings of Liubavas Manor watermill building of 1902. At the time when the mill was being built, the manor had one more mill at the Žalesa River, towards the Neris, in Tartokai. The design documentation of this mill has survived. In the period of 1896-1905, Tartokai mill was rebuilt several times after repeatedly burning down. It was used for various purposes - as a sawmill and even a paper plant. The author of reconstructions of Tartokai mill was then a famous architect in Vilnius Aleksejus Polozovas, who designed around hundred of different profile buildings. As for the Liubavas Manor watermill, the fact that the mill was designed by the said architect is only one of many assumptions. Another assumption suggests that the author of the mill could be one of the architects chosen for reconstructions by the Tiškevičiai (Tyszkiewiczowie), owners of Lentvaris Manor at that time. The owners of both manors were in close relationship then.

Restoration of Liubavas Manor watermill followed several principles. First of all, we tried to preserve the authenticity as much as possible by restoring or recreating with a help of analogue examples. Here, a reservation should be made that in case of heritage objects like this, its reconstructions, some of them carried out even during the Soviet period, have also become heritage, therefore it was deliberately aimed at keeping certain traces of the activity and reconstructions from that period. Another principle was to reconstruct properly all the operating equipment in its old place and in the way it was during the construction of the mill. Since the object had to be adapted to museum activities, be comfortable and safe in the modern sense, several changes had to be made. Trying to avoid any distort of the heritage, we matched the style of the equipment necessary for adaptation. Adaptation is the most painful action when trying to save qualities of the heritage. However, it is inevitable in order to turn the object into a source of knowledge for the public.

The same as in other fields, getting familiar with heritage starts with small observations and comparisons. The more authentic marks left, even if they are not that important at the first glance, the easier is to trace the possible initial idea. I have noticed that getting to know something better requires much time for analysing the object and not thinking that somebody else will give you answers or show solutions. Of course, I had to talk to experts and millers, contemporaries of the watermill or their descendants so that we could go back a century.

It is essential to remember that the most important intention when restoring a heritage object is called reconstruction rather than creation. The heritage was once created by somebody and we must be very creative only when thinking about its subtle adaptation. Our work should not overshadow the author's idea.


The building and equipment of Liubavas watermill were distinguishable for its high quality. Façades and interior walls had to be restored without leaving any traces. At first, we decided that the binding grout should not be visible in the pebble inlay between cleaved stone bricks, and mouldings and rims should be made of red bricks produced at the time when the mill was built.

The southern wall of the building turned to be a great concern. It was strongly leaning down, so we slightly bended the restored cornice so that it connected to the eastern wall of the building. We walled up from the outside the opening at the bottom of the southern wall made during the Soviet period, and adjusted the hole left inside for a power distribution board. The closing device of previous opening built during the Soviet period was turned into the door of the power distribution board.

We wanted to reconstruct the niche of the transmission drive - the remains of little arcs of obscure form and made of cracked bricks was all that left from the niche. I spent many hours studying the former place of the window. Some answers were prompted by the surviving shaft with a pulley hanging on the ceiling of the basement and transferring torque to the sawmill shaft through the flat belt drive. The direction of the belt revealed that the top of the niche had been built downwards, towards the frame of the niche. The brick rim of the window partially matched other window rims and creatively blended in the wall of the shed.

The authentic beauty of interior walls of the building came to light after removing all the chalk and cement laid on joints during the Soviet period. We rebuilt window rims from the interior of the building using red bricks. It should be mentioned that some of the rims had to be dismounted in order to put in authentically recreated massive piny window jamb. Window and door jambs were bricked when building and then performed the function of lintel.

As for brick rims of the façade and basement doors from the exterior, it should be mentioned that their bottom part was completely destroyed. The image of these rims was recreated by comparing and looking for any traces of the bricks used.

The miller's room was previously plastered. Its walls have a rough blurred plaster surface with slightly rounded corner edges. This is the only room with wooden windowsills.


The roof of the watermill was in the state of emergency. Rotten wooden structures had to be replaced with the new ones. It was decided to keep the authentic nature of the roof at the expense of insulation, i.e. using a very thin layer of insulation material. It was a minor compromise: the construction of the loft and its interior joists were reconstructed keeping the old volumes, and the roof became only slightly thicker. The manor nationalisation documents confirmed that the roof of the watermill had been covered with tin sheets. I could hardly imagine that it was possible to use plastic covered tin in the heritage object. The only condition was it had to be galvanised. When you look at the traditional tinned roof, you can feel the warmth of the master's hands, the warmth that a tinsmith puts when joining tin sheets. The colour of the roof was a deliberate choice. It was suggested by the remains of the initial brown red paint, later than the original, on the watermill's exterior door case.

Doors and windows

The only survived things were the façade door of the watermill, fragments of cases of the exterior door of the basement and the door of the miller's room, window jambs of the loft. We wanted to restore and reconstruct the windows the way they were in the early 20th century without using any factory-made fittings. The windows were reconstructed according to the old photos, the profile and joints of the frame were made looking at the example of windows in the manor officine of that time. After we accidentally found one part of a window jamb with the authentic wrought hinges, we instantly knew what this part of the window should look like. Jambs were made of old pine wood, using only smith's fittings according to the surviving examples: hinges, hooks, weathercocks, grating. The façade door of the watermill had only hinges, a lock with a knob and a bolt. The pattern of the sheeting of the exterior door of the basement was recreated according to the pattern in the photos, while the profile of the plate's sheeting according to the example of the façade door.

The façade door and the jamb, similarly as in case of the basement, were significantly lowered during the Soviet period. After the road in front of the watermill was buried under 80 cm of ground, 25 cm of the bottom of the jamb and the door were cut and some kind of doorstep plastered. I noticed that the structure of the door and the places of hinges looked rather strange. With a help of logical comparisons of proportions, ratio with the foundation, rims, floor, etc., we managed to determine the real height of the door. Then, the only thing we had to do was to put on the jamb and the door that were cut during the Soviet period.

The windows were painted in a rich ochra colour according to the remains of the authentic paint on window and door cases. It is a matter-of-course that it was decided to use glass instead of various packages that unfortunately are sometimes used in our heritage objects.


No matter how romantic we see the watermill, it is an industrial enterprise. Restoration and reconstruction of the technological equipment seemed like the toughest deed as we had no knowledge about it. My first discovery was that elements in the foundation of the main shaft and their configuration were repeating. I also noticed some marks of the milestone fitting and the opening used for pouring flour, as well as the fact that the second milestone was missing. We had thought before that Liubavas watermill had only one milestone. Technically it is clear that one milestone would be quite inefficient use of energy resources as the water turbine has up to 70 HP power. So, I asked a son of the miller who had worked in the watermill during the interwar, if he could confirm the existence of the second milestone. And he remembered it. A son of another miller, who had worked a bit later, told me his father had dreamt of rebuilding the second milestone. Finally, it was decided to reconstruct it, too.

Having found a wooden structure with a rounded edge lying on the ground, I instantly understood that it was a part of a casing of the old groat mill. With a help of this part we reconstructed the whole casing and the groat mill became even more elegant.

In Liubavas watermill blades of the turbine were adjusted by a worm drive located inside the building. A gear bedded in the wall is the only thing that survived. What did it look like? When digging the yard we found a strange cracked cast-iron part. We put it together with the gear and made a set out of it. It helped us move further. The holes noticed in floor joists right above the found worm suggested us the principle and dimensions of the drive. All we had to do was to restore the body of this drive together with the missing parts, bearings, a lever and a handle.

Another authentic foundation with an installed fortification of the bearing bed is a little bit more to the west from the foundation of the main shaft. It could have been a continuation of the shaft. However, where was the torque transferred to? Looking above, we saw a blurred mark left on horizontal joists by the shaft's reinforcement and a pulley belt. Shafts could have been joined. I heard about fulling mills - a device for making rough wool cloth. The oven with a kettle stood near the fulling mill. Workers who had restored the mill brought good news to us - they found red bricks of the oven bottom in the stone pavement of the basement. Hence, a complex of technological equipment was supplemented by a fulling mill with the oven restored according to analogues.

Reading books and talking to old millers made me better realise that such a mill could not produce quality flour without a grain cleaning device, so-called scourer. All answers rested in the authentic floor of the ground floor. Having found one opening for clean grain and another for chaff, I could easily determine the location of the scourer. Searches for the point where the torque was transferred to the scourer resulted in discovery of a mark left by installation of another shaft on the floor. The restored shaft gave answers to other questions. It turned our that the flat belt drive rotated the elevator through the opening on the ground floor, and the other drive transported the flour to the worm (installed in the attic) shoving the flour to the bolter.

The openings found on the floor of both stories of the mill also helped to recreate the sack hoist. Not to sound boring I will not go deeper into other components of the watermill - peculiarities of restoration of wood and metal lathe and drilling machines.


Archaeologists, working in the yard of the watermill, discovered an authentic foundation connected to the south-eastern corner of the building. It is clearly the remains of the former sawmill of the watermill. A mill without a sawmill is no mill at all. A contemporary of the manor period confirmed my guesses and told that in addition to a circular saw, there was also a flat-knife chipping machine. I drew a sketch of the loft. In the wall of the loft I also found some screws to attach the shaft to the wall. Using the examples of instalment of the bearing beds of a shaft we reconstructed the shaft rotating wood processing machines.

Finishing and adaptation

The watermill had completely rotten floor on both storeys, adjoining the residential part of the mill. Floor joists and the inlay of their planks, floor planks and rims were reconstructed according to the old photos. The joists and floor in the manufacturing part were in a better condition therefore they required only partial reconstruction. The stairwell rail was reconstructed using the surviving fragments and photos.


Liubavas Manor watermill was literally buried by ground and humus. It was highly important not to be mistaken and find the real ground level around the building. I have noticed that sometimes it is popular to increase the ground level, thus drowning the buildings and changing their proportions. This is not only bad for aesthetics but, as the case is in Liubavas Manor watermill, dampens walls as water washes the grout away. I was looking for untouched ground, observing the configuration of layers of archaeological trenches around the mill, inclination amplitudes of the dam wall on the other side of the road, peculiarities of foundation laying and marks left by grout. All of this helped me to determine the ground level and height of the channel shores. When the ground level was returned to the supposed previous location, the water stopped making ravines and some parts of the building "grew" by a meter - say it's not a miracle?

Gintaras Karosas

Excerpt from Gintaras Karosas' book LIUBAVAS (2010)