The water mill at Lexington Gardens was more than just a kitschy family attraction. The small model above its little moat was one of Ted Dewan’s childhood “holy places,” and a place he visited as an adult when he was in need of a “sentimental ponder.”

The water mill at Lexington Gardens was more than just a kitschy family attraction. The small model above its little moat was one of Ted Dewan’s childhood “holy places,” and a place he visited as an adult when he was in need of a “sentimental ponder.”

Last summer, Dewan found himself there again after his father died. Now living in Oxford, England, Dewan was in town just a few days arranging his father’s affairs at his Hancock Street home.

That’s when the Lexington native saw the demolition crews.

The greenhouse was leveled as part of a development plan that will turn the former garden center into a new subdivision.

“I was astonished to spot the watermill standing there intact like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the Blitz,” Dewan said.

Now town officials are saying souvenirs may not be all that’s preserved at Lexington Gardens. Development plans expected to come before town officials this spring may also preserve the garden that made the property famous.

Saving the water mill

Lexington Gardens gained notoriety in the 1980s as the set of “The Victory Garden,” the longest-running gardening show on PBS.

Dewan, 48, says it holds other value for the people who grew up near its greenhouses.

“The place was an intoxicating indoor paradise with impossible wonder like enormous tropical ferns, and cactuses in the middle of winter,” Dewan said.

While in town last summer, he took the opportunity to preserve that red-and-white piece of his childhood. He bought the waterwheel and mill from the developer, borrowed a truck from a friend, and set out to rescue the tableaux before the bulldozers arrived.

“The waterwheel was so rotten it could have been compacted Wheaties held together with white paint,” Dewan said.

He had better luck with the mill model. He removed it with the help of three friends and placed the mill in storage in Stoneham.

According to Dewan, the Lexington Historical Society turned down the building twice — once when it was offered to the Society by the developers and once again when Dewan offered it to them.

Dewan, an author of several picture books for children, sees the story of the watermill as missing its final chapter. He hopes that someone will step forward to suggest an appropriate use for the mill.

Speaking of wishes

The mill building isn’t the only artifact to be rescued from the old site.

Alex Bird, who grew up in Arlington Heights and is now a member of the Supreme Council Mason’s Lodge in Lexington, snatched up some of the sturdy old red Radio Flyers that served as shopping carts at the garden for years.

They can now be seen at another attraction in town — the National Heritage Museum.

Bird, who works at the museum, is using the wagons to haul hoses and other material around the museum grounds.

He bought the wagons for about $10 on one of the last days the store was in operation.

“It was just one of those places that had been there for a long time,” Bird remembered. “I just couldn’t bear to see the little red wagons get thrown away.”

Next spring, developers will present the town with their final plans for building 12 houses on the site. According to staff at the Planning Department, those plans will likely preserve the set of “The Victory Garden,” a PBS show that was filmed there.

Pennies for Perkins

When Dewan removed the mill, he found a secret treasure under the footbridge that spanned the moat: Pennies.

And not just any pennies — pennies that were the wishes of generations of Lexington kids. 

For years, the owners of Lexington Gardens collected the pennies to donate to charity. But some landed in places that were hard to reach.

When Dewan and his helpers shifted the bridge over the moat, they found dozens of pennies gone green and fuzzy in the moisture.

“Some were there so long, they looked more like Roman coins found in a river bed,” Dewan said.

The first charity listed on the sign was the “School for the Blind,” so in October, Dewan presented some of the old pennies to Jennifer Volpe from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown .

Volpe is trying to find out if the school ever received donations from the gardens. She hopes to get in touch with Dewan soon about what happened to the pennies.As for Dewan, he’d love to get that mill out of storage. He is looking for a steward who will do something “creative and significant” with it.

If that steward can turn it into a new kitschy family attraction, so much the better. He is taking suggestions at watermill@teddewan.com.