Around the Island

Islanders will see 19th-century windmill get 21st-century update

The long history of Shelter Island’s windmill will continue to unfold over the next few weeks, as Master Craftsman Jim Kricker and a team of millwrights work to install a new windshaft and blades in the mill at Sylvester Manor.

This is Phase 3 of a multi-year project to restore the 1810 windmill. Long a favorite local landmark and a popular subject of postcards, the windmill reflects the agrarian history of the Island and the East End.

Mr. Kricker said the team, which arrived on the Island Dec. 3 from Saugerties, N.Y., is removing the old windshaft first, then will remove the old neck bearing. The beam under the neck bearing will be examined and replaced if need be. Once that is done, the new windshaft will go in.

Mr. Kricker said they anticipate proceeding with Phase 4, which includes bringing the windmill back to operational condition, in Spring/Summer 2021. “This will address the mechanical parts of the windmill,” he said “and related structural issues associated with supporting, aligning and operating the machinery.”

This phase will also include the installation of the sails, which comprise six pieces. “The backbone is made up of stocks,” Mr. Kricker said. “Two pieces go through the mortices of the windshaft to form a cross. The whips are the remaining four pieces that have lattice attached. Once assembled, they will be bolted to the stocks. Then, we will have an intact windmill, without the cloths.”

The cloths are also part of this phase, he said, but have not yet been made.

Quite a bit of the restoration work — as well as the fundraising to support it — has been going on over the past three years. Phase 1 included stabilizing the foundation by lifting the 6,000-pound structure up six feet from its resting place for the first time in nearly 100 years in order to rebuild the foundation, according to Sylvester Manor’s director of operations Tracy McCarthy.

New piers were poured and strapped to the undermounts, ensuring the mill would be secure and stable. Phase 2 focused on the exterior where the shingles on the mill had eroded and cracked and the doors and windows had deteriorated. The mill was completely re-shingled, and new doors and windows installed.

The mill was originally built in Southold by the renowned carpenter and millwright, Nathaniel Dominy V (1770-1852). As a fifth-generation craftsman, Dominy worked on the North and South forks and had gained his reputation as a master carpenter after building the Hook Mill in East Hampton in 1806.

The Sylvester Manor mill was commissioned by partners Benjamin Horton, Moses Cleveland, Joseph Hallock and Barnabas Case several years later and originally operated in Southold grinding bushels of wheat, corn, rye and meslin.

It was moved to Shelter Island in 1840 by Joseph Congdon, who positioned it in the center of town near the present library. The new mill replaced a previous one that had burned down years earlier. In 1855, the windmill was sold again to Smith Baldwin, who continued to operate it until the 1870s. In 1879, Lilian Horsford, a descendant of one of Sylvester Manor’s families, bought the mill to preserve it as an historic landmark.

Its working life was not over, though. The windmill resumed operation during World War I to help provide meal and flour to the inhabitants of the Island at a time of severe food shortages. Cornelia Horsford, the youngest sister of Lilian, purchased the windmill from her in 1926 and had it moved to the highest elevation of Sylvester Manor, where it sits today.

In 1952, Sylvester Manor owner Andrew Fiske renovated the windmill, replacing the shingles and main driveshaft, but it was damaged soon after in a hurricane, an experience many Islanders can relate to; it has been without the blades ever since. This windmill is one of 11 surviving 18th and 19th century wind-powered gristmills on Long Island.

Sylvester Manor, once a Native American hunting, fishing and farming ground, has since 1651 been home to 11 generations of its original European settler family. Given to the Shelter Island community in 2014, the 235-acre historic site is the most intact slaveholding plantation remnant north of Virginia.

Today, the windmill is the centerpiece of a nonprofit organic educational farm. The property that includes the original Manor House built in 1735 and a timber-frame farmstand as well as the mill. For more information, visit sylvestermanor.org.