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«HAER No. NY-134 Windmill at Water Mill Village of Water Mill Town of Southampton Suffolk Gounty New York PHOTOGRAPHS REDUCED COPIES OF MEASURED ...»

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HAER No. NY-134

Windmill at Water Mill

Village of Water Mill

Town of Southampton

Suffolk Gounty

New York




Historic American Engineering Record

National Park Service

Department of the Interior

Washington, D.C. 20240 m


Windmill at Water Mill NY-134 On the Montauk Highway, Village of Water


Mill, Town of Southampton, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.

Last technical changes made

Date of Construction: Circa 1800:

1938, Present Owner: Water Mill Village Improvement Association Inc.

Mr. Richard Ross, President Georgian Lane Water Mill, New York 11976 Discontinued milling operations in 1887 and

Present Use:

in disuse since then. The exterior has been maintained as part of a public park since | * Significance: Tte Windmill at Water Mill is one of 11 extant late 18th and early 19th century wind-driven gristmills on eastern Long Island; it served the milling needs of local farmers when eastern Long Island was primarily a grain and cattle producing area lacking in sufficient water power. One of nine remaining windmills with major internal works, the mill structure and machinery offer Important documentation of the wood joinery techniques used in 17th, 18th and 19th century American domestic and utilitarian architecture. The mill also helps document eastern Long Island's

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I. INTRODUCTION The Windmill at Water Mill, built in 1800, is the best surviving example of the early type of smock mill on Long Island. Although much has been altered, it retains more of its original machinery that the 1795 Gardiner's Island Windmill, the only other mill of this early type. The Gardiner's Island Mill was rebuilt and given intermediate gearing by Nathaniel Dominy in 1815.

Although the Windmill at Watermill now has intermediate gearing and two pair of millstones, like all the other surviving mills, its original machinery was quite different. When it was built in 1800, this windmill had only one pair of millstones in the center of the mill, run by an upright shaft engaging the brake wheel. This manner of driving the stones was adopted from the post mills, as was the use of a tail pole to wind the mill.

The first Long Island smock mills then, were very similar to the first English smock mills which had been built about 150 years earlier. These English mills also had the direct-drive gearing and tail pole of the post mill.

As well as documenting the first type pf smock mill built on Long Island, the Windmill at Water Mill establishes tbef very close ties between the millwriting traditions of Long Island and New Englfand. As it was built in 1800, the Windmill at Water Mill was nearly identical to the windmills being built in Massachusetts at the same time. SevenfMassachusetts windmills still stand with their machinery intact; six were built on Cape Cod and one on Nantucket.

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certain primitive characteristics uncommon in surviving Long Island smock windmills, even those built earlier. The smallest, of the ten remaining mills, with unusually low ceiling heights, it is the only one whose cap rests on a "dead curb" and is winded by a tailpole. Its windshaft, a later replacement, also differs from other extant Long Island windmills.

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of the other mills, it also indicates eastern Long Island's eighteenth and early nineteenth century isolation from English contemporary advances in miHwrighting technology. Although the Corwith family owned thelmill formost of its operating t existence, and it has only been moved once and has remained on its present site for 165 years, documentation of its construction and operation is surprisingly scanty.

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and secondary accounts conflict. An inscription carved on the Windmill at Water Mill's staircase string, "Began to Grinde Aug. 1, 1800," supports a construction date of about 1800.

The mill was probably one of about five then in the Sag Harbor area, a whaling port which was just beginning to develop as a commercial center at the end of the eighteenth century. 3 No record of the mill's builder exists and the early years of its operation are obscure. Neither James Mitchel nor John Jermain, who may have joined him in building the mill, are woodworking craftsmen or millwrights. An account book kept by Samuel Corwithe, a cooper in Bridgehampton who did some millwork between 1795 and 1835, lists an account with Jeams Michel /sic/ between If01 and 1815, but does not mention 4 * a mill. One secondary account -states that the Windmill at Water Mill was run by a miller named Ludlum or Ludlow, but no other record of this was located. None of the extant neve papers for the early nineteenth century contain any advertisements which could be linked to the mill. James Mitchel may have continued to own it (or another mill) however, because an entry in an account book kept by Pardon T. Tabor, a carpenter in Sag Harbor who worked on the Beebe Windmill (1820) in Bridgehampton,lists "to one days work on the mill" to the account of "James and Stevan Mitchell" on January 18, 1812.

Local histories state that James Corwith purchased the mill in 1813 or 1814. The Corwith family believes that he acquired it from Joshua Howe11 of Sag Harbor, a miller, for $750, dismantled it and moved it with twelve yoke of oxen to


HAER No. NY-134 (page 5) what was then common land in Water Mill-to replace a mill that had been destroyed in a storm on December 24, 1811. The price allegedly paid for the windmill fits with what we know of the cost of building some of the extant mills: the Gardiner's Island Windmill (1795) cost $773. the Wainscott Windmill (1813)* $304 and the Hook Windmill (1806), $1,320. An account book kept by Sullivan Cook, a Bridgehampton woodworking craftsman, documents 38 & H days work at a charge of ten prmnHa o^e shilliix,- for Jarrss Cerwith between September 24th and November 12th, 1813, but does not indicate that he necessarily worked on the windmill. Cook does mention other mill work though, and it is possible he did repairs or reconstruc

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buildings in Water Mill just'north of the village commons from Jeremiah and Rebecca Ludlum for $750; on September 8, 1813 he married Harmenia Goodale, the daughter of Joseph Goodale, a farmer whose property was nearby in Water Mill.

Evidently, then, he had by 1813 settled in Water Mill but neither the Southampton Trustees Records or Town Records make any mention of permission to place the mill on common land. In fact, although some accounts state that Corwith purchased the land from the Trustees of the Proprietors of Common Land in 1814, the land was not deeded to Corwith until 1860, when he purchased it for twenty dollars. It seems likely then, that during most of the fifty years that

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of Agriculture Census valued it at $2,000. Corwith never owned more than about twenty-four acres of taxable property and the Town of Southampton assessed his holdings, including the mill, at $1,500 between 1853 and 1872. 1R From the extant evidence it is difficult to determine a value for the mill itself. As a property owner with holdings of this size, Corwith was probably considered a solid member of the community but by the standards of mid-nineteenth century Southampton, his real assets placed him among the small to middle level farmers, even toward the end of his life. 19 Like many farmers on eastern Long Island in the first half of the nineteenth century, Corwith operated frequently in a barter economy, paying |t least some of his bills in kind. Local storekeepers in Sag" Harbor and Southampton during the 1830s and 1840s received corn meal, flour and eggs, as well aa some cash, for staples including dry goods, pills, molasses, candles, salt, tea, sugar, coffee, camphor gum, starch and soap. Daniel Hildreth, the owner of a sawmill and a pumpmaker, who cut boards and did other work for Corwith, records payment in wheat, corn and oyster shells, as well as cash. Cash was probably in short supply for most farmers and Corwith may have received money infrequently for the corn meal, flour, oysters and eggs he supplied to local farmers. A bill from Corwith to Daniel Fordham, a neighboring farmer, shows that over a period of four years, on a bill totaling $159.19, Fordham had paid exactly $1,00 in cash (and apparently nothing in kind ), It is difficult to say, of course, whether such a payment record was common practice, but other evidence also indicates that cash may have been a scarce commodity in James Corwith*s


HAER No. NY-134 (page 8) life, especially in the early years of the mill's operation when he may have been trying to pay off obligations connected with its purchase. On April 22, 1818, he bound himself to Steohpn Howell of Sag Harbor, a wealthy shipowner, for $1,400 and agreed to pay "lawful interest"(five percent) as well as $100 of the principal annually. As part of his agreement with Howell, Corwith mortgaged two parcels of land totaling thirtyeight acres for $700, with the stipulation that Howell could sell them if Corwith defaulted on payment of the $700. A record of payment attached to the bond indicates that he made two payments, April 10, 1819 and April 10, 1820, totaling $291 before both the bond and the mortgage were assigned to James* brother Silas on Aprdll 22, 1822 for $570, the remaining principal and interest, frames appears to have resumed payment of interst in April, 1823 but wasn't, able to pay anything on the principal until the following year, when he paid $390 on September 13, 1824. Much of this was raised by Corwith'a sale of thirty acres of land to Jeremiah Haina for $280 on the same date. Silas received the money directly from Haina. The obligation appears to have been paid off by April, 1829, eleven years after the original bond was contracted. 22 During the same years, James and Harmenia Corwith executed two unrecorded deeds selling their property to James1 relatives in Bridgehampton. The first, dated April 8, 1818, conveys "a certain tract of Land with the Buildings thereon and outbuildings, viz The Wind Mill and amokehous.., Containing by Estimation Wine pcres" to Mary Corwithe, William


HAER No. NY-134 (page 9) Corwithe and Silas Corwithe for $1,400. Executed only a few days before the bond with Stephen Howe 11, this deed was never acknowledged and presumably the mill remained in James' hands, for on August 23, 1821 he sold his nine acre farm and "all that certain Wind Mill standing on the Highway South of said premises..." for $1,000 to Mary, Silas and Abigail Corwithe.

Although the farm, or perhaps the mill, appears to have declined in value between these two transactions, more likely the amounts mentioned reflect Corwith's indebtedness. 23 The second deed, was acknowledged but Corwith evidently retained ownership of the windmill because there is no record I of his having purchased it b^ck. Probably these deeds were $ executed simply to provide collateral for Corwith's debts to his relatives. Other sources, support his continued ownership of the mill. Account books kept by John Burnet, a blacksmith, and Daniel Hildreth show that repairs were made to the mill and charged to James Corwith from 1822 to 1829, 1838 to 1839 and 1854; in 1860 a deed for the land upon which the mill stood refers to "the Mill of James Corwith."

The dearth of records makes it difficult to answer even the most basic questions relating to the operation of the windmill. Unlike the Hook (1806), Beebe (1820), Shelter Island (1810), Hayground (1801) and Wainscot* (1813) mills, as well as others, the Windmill at Water Mill never appears on the United States Products of Industry Census in any decade between 1850 and 1880. No Corwith account books survive and no newspaper advertisements were


HAER No. NY-134 (page 10) located. A few clues, however, emerge from limited sources.

An account book "kept by John Burnet, a blacksmith in Water Mill, shows several entries for repairs to a mill charged to James Corwithey /sic/ in 1838 and probably 1839 {the date is illegible ). During the months of March, April, May, June and July Burnet records "sharpning /sic/ mill peckes " on several occasions as well as repairs such as "one new hook for the brase /Brake?/ to the mill and mending the brase," "for wages for the mill," and "for hooping trundle heads." 25 Since windmills required frequent repairs, and the stones continual sharpening, while they were grinding, it appears that the Corwith roil|L may have operated mainly during the spring and early pummer months. On March 21, 1854 Daniel HiTdreth noted ih his diary that he "cut a white oak tree" for Corwith for a mill shaft. Hildreth also sawed "fillies and Bords for grist mill wheels" in August, 1822.

Assuming that Corwith probably made such major repairs at the beginning or end of the grinding season, this evidence further supports a limited milling period, perhaps in the spring and summer, A bill from James Corwith to Daniel Fordham for grinding and the purchase of flour, corn meal, oysters and eggs gives only a few dates from 1837 to 1841, but those that appear are the months of February, March and April.

Spring and summer grinding would have allowed the grain to dry for several months after the previous harvest and would have taken advantage of the prevailing southwest wind

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