Clark Mills And The Dunedin Woodwright
The boatbuilder and workshop that impacted and revolutionized sailing throughout the world.
With Dunedin becoming the epicenter of craft beer in Florida, you do not have to look far to find a small, local brewery. Seeing the Woodwright Brewing Company (est. 2016) on Douglas Street, you might just write off the location as just another brewery. The brewery gets its name from its neighboring, joint-owned woodworking shop, The Dunedin Woodwright, which was first opened in 1995. Before 1995, The Dunedin Woodwright was owned by Clark Mills, a legendary boat builder who previously used the building to create his famed boats.
Born in 1915 in Jackson, Michigan, Clark Mills was raised in Clearwater, Florida. Picking up handiwork from his father, Clark was constantly tinkering or working with his hands from a young age. Though this work would usually entailed helping his father renovate houses or similar activities, Clark was always interested in boats. This interest manifested in young Clark joining various boating clubs, making his own boats (his first being at age 10), and learning much about boat building from knowledgeable locals like Captain John Weeks.
Fast forwarding to World War II, Clark Mills was drafted into the Navy, first being sent to a navy yard in Philadelphia, and two years later being sent to the Panama Canal Zone. These years during the war honed his boat making skills, culminating with his Navy friends eventually convincing him to start up his own boat shop. This dream became a reality when he purchased a shop from Walter Prior in 1948, the same shop where the Dunedin Woodwright stands today. Now that he had his own shop, Clark Mills began to build his legacy.
Though famous for his many boat designs (Snipes, Windmills, Com-Pacs, etc.), he became most known for his Optimist Pram boat. Major Clifford McKay, who had just spoken at the local Optimist Club (an organization for underprivileged youth), asked Clark to make a children’s sailboat that would cost under $50 and could be assembled at home by a child. Though tough, Clark was able to build the pram design, allow hundreds of thousands of kids to set sail. Never collecting royalties, the design has spread all over the world, with most current Olympic sailors starting out at a young age with his pram design.
Passing away in 2001, Clark Mills created a boat building legacy that will last lifetimes. Described as one of the best boat builders in the country, a chairman of the Rotary Club was quoted in saying; “The Clark nameplate on a boat is equivalent to ‘Cadillac’ on a car!” This contribution to boats, but more specifically sailing, was officially recognized in 2017 with his induction into the National Sailing Hall of Fame. Though nationally recognized, Clark Mills never received any money for his designs; his main priory was helping kids who loved boats as much as he did.
With how important he was to both Dunedin/Clearwater and the world of boating, Clark Mills has become one of the most important individuals in Dunedin’s history. Though not owned by the Mills family, The Dunedin Woodwright and the Woodwright Brewing Company pay tribute to the history of their buildings. The inside of the building is filled with Clark Mills pieces, examples being with an Optimists Club booklet and even a Clark Mills Pram hanging from the ceiling. Though the business and furnishings changed, the history of Clark Mills’ contributions is prevalent, making the location worthy for anyone interested in boats, history, or both.