The repairs to the Hook Mill on the town green in East Hampton have been completed. Robert Hefner, who this generation has been and is the go-to guy to rebuild or fix all of our early 19th century windmills in the Hamptons when they need it, probably spent more time overseeing the repairs of this mill than he has spent repairing any other.
These great historic windmills are made of wood. They sit out in the open. Since there are 11 of them on the East End of Long Island—they are the largest collection of old English windmills in America—there is always something needing to be done somewhere. And it turns out that the Hook Mill, the very centerpiece of the town, had gone so long without any work that it needed an entire restoration. It might take a year. Each piece would have to be restored by hand and experts would oversee the carving of the pieces and bolt them all together the old fashioned way. It didn’t take one year, it took two.
Driving past it the other day, I stopped to pull over to the side of the road to admire it after two years of looking at a construction site and I noticed something about the mill I have never seen before. I also have never seen anything like this with any of the other mills. The bottom row of shingles on the mill is missing. Instead of shingles going all the way down to the grass, it ends about six inches above the grass. You can therefore see the underpinnings of the mill clearly. There aren’t any.
I will explain. I don’t know exactly how this works, but with all the other windmills, one makes the assumption that under the shingles, giant wooden posts hold up the mill and go all the way up to the top. Otherwise, how would the mill be kept where it is? Certainly, if you look at the photos of Hook Mill before the renovation, you see the shingles covering everything. But now they don’t.
I have not yet gone to the trouble of asking Hefner or the Village Manager why Hook Mill was rebuilt with this gap at the bottom. I suspect they will tell me that this is the way the mill looked when it was built in 1806. And so they are making a perfect restoration, rather than the compromise that had been there before.
Now at this point, you might be asking why I am making such a big deal out of this. I will tell you. It is a big deal. The mill, obviously, is not floating or hovering there. It is, in fact, sitting on rocks. There are six big rocks, boulders actually, partially buried underground, each boulder under where the six big beams come down from above. The mill is perched on these rocks, six beams on six rocks.
My concern about all this will become apparent when I reveal to you the fact that nearly every one of our mills was not originally where it is now. They were, when built, considered just oversized agricultural machines that could grind corn into flour either here, there or anywhere. Someone would own one. If at a certain point the owner wanted to sell it, it would be slid onto greased logs and pulled by oxen from here to there.
The first of our mills was built on Gardiner’s Island in 1795 and moved about on that island at the whim of the owner. It was later painted white and is white today. The second, the Corwith Windmill, was built in 1800 on a farm outside Sag Harbor and later moved to the town green on the Montauk Highway in Water Mill. The Gardiner Windmill was built in 1804 on the Gardiner property on James Lane in East Hampton and is still where it was built. But the next mill, also built that year, was the Pantigo Mill, named for the place it was built between East Hampton and Amagansett, and later moved to its present site on the Mulford Farm next to Home Sweet Home also on James Lane.
I could go on and on about these mills. The Good Ground Windmill was built on Shelter Island in 1807, then moved to Good Ground, now “Hampton Bays,” then later to Gin Lane in Southampton. The Wainscott Mill, built in 1813 in Southampton, was towed to Wainscott Main Street and ground corn there to 1910 when it was no longer used for that purpose. It was moved to Montauk in 1922 and then was moved to its present location on some common ground in the Georgica Association in Wainscott. In other words, these windmills have been coming and going for years. One or another of them will be moved anytime in the next dozen years or so, count on it.
But let’s hope it’s not the Hook Mill. Let’s hope we don’t wake up tomorrow morning to find out that it’s gone. That it was moved away without anybody’s permission during the night. Looking at it the way it is today, it is a very tempting proposition.
I was born and raised in and around New York City until I was sixteen. In and around New York City, you don’t leave anything valuable anywhere. You lock your car. You lock your house or apartment when you are not in it. When out and about, you keep your shoulder bag near to you. In a restaurant, if you have to use the bathroom, you take your bag with you.
Now I know, this is a minority view and I could go to a psychiatrist who could after many years cure me of this affliction so I wouldn’t worry about such things anymore.
At the present time, however, I do. And it seems to me that here is this mill, a priceless antique, the very centerpiece of this town, perched on six big rocks that with very little thought—perhaps two I-Beams attached to several car axles and wheels slid under there—could be towed away by—and I use a television commercial for reference here, by either a Dodge Ram or a Toyota Tundra, take your pick.
My suggestion? Under the very center of the mill—you could as it is today crawl under to get to it—dig a deep hole, fill it with non-historic reinforced concrete and as it begins to dry, drop the end of a giant steel chain into it. After it’s dry, wrap the other end of steel chain around the center wooden floor beam of the windmill and then secure it with a giant padlock which only Hefner and town manager Larry Cantwell have the key for.
After that, and I don’t know about you, but as for me, as I drive past the Hook Mill on my way home from work which I do every day, I will feel a lot more comfortable about everything.