by Marion Nicholl Rawson, 1935.
Flag on the mill, ship on the bay.
Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York.
Catching the Wind
It was the winds and the tides which bought the Friends to New Jersey, the
Walloons to Manna-hatta, and the New World lords of the manor to far-flung
Virginia, and it was these same winds and tides to which the newcomers looked
for the grinding of the newly discovered maize and the sawing of a vast
supply of forest trees, as soon as might be. There were various ways in
which these two elements might be applied to labor, and the cleverer the
man the more fruitful the element. To use the tides to advantage we have
already found was early done. To use the winds through the weeks and months
of crossing the Atlantic, great sheets or sails had been raised upon mast
and spar, and so, when it was decided to use the wind again for grinding
and sawing, the same plan was followed for catching it; upon what the user's
birthright had been in the matter of national background, depended just
how his mill should be built.
Sails were sewed and fitted to be hung upon frames which would catch the
wind and turn wooden wheels, and give power to the saw or run of stones
down below. With the use of these air-slaves, the sky must have seemed
much nearer than the earth to the miller, and the sky is always a friendly
companion. In spite of the fact that a windmill is built upon the simple
principle of the wheel and axle, or interlocking cogs or pegs working upon
each other in revolution, there were several types of windmills.
The oldest type is the "post mill." The old post mill below Church
Creek in Dorchester Country, Maryland,, is a perfect example of this type
and is still standing. This type of mill has a unique great oaken post
which measured some two feet in diameter. This stood upon a support of
stone or timbers crossing beneath its base and called "cross trees."
Upon the post a small one-room house was built, which resembled a tidy
corn-crib, but was often covered with neat clapboards - and shingled above
like any earthbound home. The post's size made it a standard of hugeness
and gave rise to various old "saws" or "sourdoughs,"
some of them a bit rude in their great expressiveness" In 1592 some
one remarked of an acquaintance: "He hath thwittled the milepost of
his huge conceit to a pudding-pricke." In 1702: "His mill-post
Legs are well adopted for the Load of his Body." In 1739:
"Let dangling Stockings, with becoming Air,
Leave to the Sight your brace of Mill-posts bare."
From these we gather that mill posts were sturdy affairs.
Naturally with such a load upon its head the post was well propped and steadied
by slanting timbers called "quarter boards" which gave a spider-like
appearance to the top-heavy structure. Then there were ladder-like steps
from the ground to the mill door on high. The reason for this strange formation
was that the whole upper part, or the house itself, was to turn upon the
top of the post in a great wooden collar, so that whichever way the wind
listed the sails were facing it and ready to catch it in their arms, to
their own turning. Attached firmly to the bottom of the building a great
"tail pole" extended downward at an angle, generally passing between
the rungs of the ladder, and it was with this tail-pole or "tail-beam"
that the house was turned. This pole measuring from one to two feet through
was sometimes made of a conveniently salvaged mast from a wrecked ship.
To lighten labor in the turning of the tail-pole, a high standing cart wheel
was usually fastened to its lower end, or a horse set to drag ii into place.
To worn track which in time came to encircle the mill from this tramping
and wheeling around, was called the "mill round" and was often
marked off with occasional rocks which could be used when a block and tackle
were made to substitute for a horse.
Later years wove a modest skirt or "round house" about the hitherto
exposed lower limbs of these old post mills for the procuring of more working
space in the mill, but their general scheme of arrangement was not changed
thereby, for the upper part still swung about independently of its downstairs
The "smock mill" took its name from its resemblance to the old
"smock" or "frock" - that loose garment of our forefathers
during week days - and was more popular than the post mill. It was also
the petticoat mill. With this type the mill-house sat squarely upon the
ground, and might be of a cylindrical form or many-sided with a generous
amount of covered mill space upon its two or three floors. It had a cap-like
headpiece, which was the only part which revolved to meet the wind, and
was naturally a much easier process than turning the whole mill, especially
since it traveled upon a wooden track well greased with mutton tallow.
As with the smock mill so it was with the mill built of stone in the form
of a tower - only its headpiece revolved. Several of these tower-like mills
have come down to us more or less well preserved, at last as to contour.
They are very lovely landmarks, reaching a height of from thirty to forty
feet, perhaps covered with vines, and with varying caps, usually the gable,
the gambrel, the conical or dome-like roofs. The pity is that so many have
been allowed to pass from under our eyes after their practical usefulness
Taken by and large there is no finer sight than the old Dutch windmill standing
boldly against the skies of the North Sea. As though it hastened to bring
us its grace and beauty, this type of mill came early to our shores, somewhat
shortened in height perhaps, but surrounded with the same wide-swung balcony
a man's height above the ground and braced with long slanting underpinning,
and tapering gently from a broad base to a small revolving top where the
monstrous widespread sails glinted their four-strong canvases. In the very
earliest records and pictures of Manhattan, the great old windmill of Dutch
build shows above the rest of the settlement, the only rival in height being
the gallows neat the shore - or was it for hoisting cargoes? The Dutch
loved their windmills and gave them the preference on Manhattan as well
as on Long Island. Even before the first gristmill was erected in Watertown,
Massachusetts, in 1633 - the first mill in the country to be run by water-power
- there was a windmill standing in the same settlement, placed there before
1632 but moved to Copp's Hill in Boston, for a likelier wind.
While the vanes of the other types of windmills often reached so low that
their sales could be adjusted by the miller as he stood upon the ground,
the Dutch type from Holland had its vanes sweep no lower than the circular
balcony. Both above and below this balcony was abundance of mill space.
To the man on the outside of one of these old mills there seems to be no
activity anywhere about, except up against the sky where the sails are sailing.
Although these remarks of an early Indian have become trite through quoting
and requoting, they must surely be repeated once more here. From the writings
of William Wood, who was casting a speculative eye over future Boston in
the year 1634, we have this: "They" -the Indians -"do much
extoll & wonder at the English for their strange Inventions, especially
for a Wind mill, which in their exteeme was little less than the world's
wonder for the strange-ness of his whisking motion, and the sharpe teeth
biting the corne (as they terme it) into such small pieces; they were loathe
at the first to come neere to his long arms, or to abide in so tottering
Vanes and Sails
The accompanying drawings of the workings of an old and a modern windmills,
which their slightly inclined wind-shafts carrying the sails, their shafts
and cogged wheels, give an idea of how the wind reaches the central shafts
and travels down it to make the stones go round. From the standpoint of
artistic interest there is little comparison between the old and the new
machinery devices used, for the old -make of the trees of the forest felled
and broad axed into shape, adzed for a modicum of smoothness, cogged to
fit wheel into wheel, all left in their pristine state and therefore retaining
the beauty of natural wood naturally weathered and aged - win the race against
machine steel. Wheels so heavy that only oxen could draw them into place,
and whittled cogs and pegs, were first-hand material, made at home where
the builder knew that his material was all ready for fitting together, without
waiting for broken-down trucks to be sidetracked with important parts, or
express and freight to go astray for several weeks. The plumber did not
have to go back home for his tools, they were on the spot from the beginning.
There were but three or four steps from the blowing of the wind to the grinding
of the corn or the sawing of the wood or the pumping of water, for all the
height of the mill and its rude and yet intricate equipment. The wind hit
the sails which were fastened upon their latticed stocks or vanes, making
them revolve and turn the neatly horizontal shaft to which they were attached.
At the end of this shaft was a great vertical wooden wheel edged with roughly
hewn cogs or sturdy wooden pegs which, in turning, engaged the pegs or cogs
of another wheel, or caught within the bars of a horizontally slatted drum
fastened around the main upright shaft, or "mill spindle." This
spindle ran down through the mill and was connected with the "eye"
of the runner millstone. It was almost as if the very wind itself went along
this devious track to turn the stones by hand, so automatic were the results
of its tossing against the sails.
Windmill sails hung upon long wooden stocks or vanes, which moved in reverse
clock direction and were made of various but always light and strong woods.
These stocks were really immense pieces of lattice work, made strong enough
to hold the sailcloth against a heavy wind, and generally four in number,
although some types carried six or even eight. Running lengthwise within
the outer frames, were the wooden "whips," and meeting these at
right angles the "sail bars," of more slender lines. Sails for
these stocks were made of heavy duck and sewed together by hand just as
the sailors of sailing vessels still sew them today. Some were stored within
the mill when the mill was idle, but there was also a way to reef them on
the stocks. These "biting" sails turning against a windy sky
became landmarks and weather vanes. In the 1680's there was a law that no
person might cross from New York to Brooklyn in the little rowboat ferry
"when the sails of the windmill are taken in.: For this meant storm.
"To tell him tydynges how the wind was went."
The sails might measure seven or eight feet in width, but whatever their
width and their spread they must be kept solid and untorn. Some of the tallest
mills carried sails of immense length. Those on one stock might be twenty-five
feet long, and because the sails stopped short of the length of the stock
when it approached the mill building, the total span of two opposite sails
would run up somewhere around sixty feet. This made an "oncommon wonderful
pi'tyer" against the clouds, and there were generally clouds, since
the high open spaces were sought for, with their wide unbroken sweep of
winds. All of these meant great weight to be borne by the mill, but the
"journal" turning in its "journal box," the "rode
balk" and the "tail balk," great front and rear timbers,
combined to hold the great stocks in place, while there was an inter-bracing
of forward sails which rearward stocks, and a mortising with the windshaft
which made for safety.
Mathews County, Virginia, hand an old smock mill with four sails shaped
like those used to rig a small catboat, all fastened upon an octagonal frame.
(must like a Greek or Spanish windmill)
Windmills had much work to do, for they ground corn, sawed wood, ground
bark for the tanner, pumped sea water in the making of salt, ground bolted
flour, chocolate, snuff, hair-powder and mustard, and were especially handy
about turning the grindstone. It was said that "a Dutch-built mill
to saw timber would do more work in an hour than fifty men in two days."
No wonder then that around the early 1700's windmills were still turning
in many places, and modern ones turning today. like other things windmills
were not utter perfection, and often they were built at great expense only
to be found standing in a place where the winds did not reach them sufficiently,
or turned them well only when they were "in the west," which necessitated
taking them all apart for reassembling in some windier spot. The management
of the heavy sails in bad weather when they had to be reefed, sometimes
took the miller's life; and because of the wide circle needed for the running
of the tail-beam, much land was wasted. It was found too that not more than
five per cent of the energy reckoned on paper was actually obtainable from
the wind on the sail surfaces, and that the variability of wind power might
be well enough for a mill that was merely pumping slowly along, but was
not sufficient for doing continuous or commercial work. Again, when the
wind was at its best, as in a storm, the speed of the sails at the circumference
was greater than the speed of the wind, so that only the reefing of the
sails could prevent the reaching of the disrupting point.
Fortunately there are still windmills standing for us to enjoy, some from
the 1600's but more from the next tow centuries. Cape Cod has a generous
supply, and Rhode Island has some, while Long Island and Nantucket and Virginia
and Maryland have their own to add to the list, some running, some quiet.
It was not an unusual sight to see a whole fleet of windmills in the earlier
days, where salt was made near the sea, especially in New England, just
as they have stood along the canals of Holland through the years. These
fleets have caught the winds differently in their sails through the centuries
and some had sailed away in smoke and some through neglect and some through
the very power which they were built to catch and hold. Apropos" "The
same water that drives the mill, decayeth it."
On eastern Long Island alone there remain several of the old windmills,
some on their original locations and others which have been moved for their
betterment or preservation. Through the kindness of E. C. Hedges, the librarian
of the East Hampton Free Library, the following valuable list is given,
and from it we may see to what uses our little old mills may still be put.
Apropos of their use, is the subject of the newly abandoned lighthouses
all along our Atlantic coast, which may or should be preserved by local
Some Windmills on Eastern Long Island
1. Shinnecock Hills Mill known as "The Claflin Mill." Built in
Southampton by Jeremiah Jagger, Mannaseh Kempton and Thomas Stephens 1713.
Stood on Wind Mill Hill corner Windmill Lane and Hill Street, where is now
the Irving garage. Moved to Shinnecock Hills 1889 -Now stands on the Claflin
2. The Betts mill. Moved from Good Ground (now Hampton Bays) 1890, for a
3. Wind Mill at Watermill. Built on North Haven 1800, moved by ox-teams
1813 to Green at Watermill by James Corwith, operated until 1887. Machinery
4. Water Mill. Tide mill at Water Mill, established 1644 by Edward Howell,
leader of the Southampton Colony. Used until 1900. Now a Community Center,
used in summer by the Association for the Blind (New York State) as a shop
and tea room (1932).
5. Hayground Mill. Built 1801, operated until now an artists' studio (1932).
6. Berwind Mill -Bridgehampton. Built 1820 in Sag Harbor on Beacon or Beebe's
Hill. When a whale ship entered the Harbor a flag was raised on the Mill.
So came the adage "Flag on the Mill, ship in the Bay." Moved
to Bridgehampton 1837. Stood near lumberyard, then on Ocean Road. Purchased
by John E. Berwind and removed to his property (1932).
7. The Wainscott Mill -Built in Southampton on Wind Mill Lane on Wind Mill
Hill (there were tow mills there for some time). Moved to Wainscott and
later became the summer home of Lathrop Brown on the bluff of Montauk near
8. Hook Mill. East Hampton. Built 1796 by Nathaniel Downing, operated until
1907. Purchased by the village for a Memorial to Soldiers of World War 1920.
9. Home Sweet Home Mill or Pantigo Mill. East Hampton. Built 1771 by Abram
Gardiner, stood on Mill Hill, west side of the Green, where is now a tree.
Moved to Pantigo (Amagansett Road, 1850). Purchased by Gus. N. Bueck 1915
and moved to John Howard Payne Garden (1932).
10. Gardiner Mill. Built by Abraham Gardiner 1771 (after selling his share
in the other mill same year). Stands on place where it was built, east
side of Main Street Burying ground. Machinery still intact. East Hampton.
11. Mill on Gardiner Island. Owned by Lion Gardiner, built in 1803, distinguished
by being painted white, is a landmark for sailors.
12. Sylvester Manor Mill- Shelter Island. Owned by Miss Cornelia Horsford,
built in 1795, raised May 23rd in Southold according to original miller's
book. Nathaniel Dominy Jr. Master workman (with father Nathaniel Sr.) present.
Built to replace the old Petticoat Mill which was built by R. Homan for
David Gardiner in the year (?). "was crazy and gone to decay."
Moved from Southold to Shelter Island and set up at Shelter Island Center
where it stood until (?). Then moved to highest point on Sylvester Manor
Estate. The mill was operated during the World War by Miss Horsford who
keeps it repaired, reshingling it in 1929.
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