Grist mill opens for tour in Huntington

Bob Rubner, left and of the Huntington Historical

Bob Rubner, left and of the Huntington Historical Society, explains the use of a milling tool called a "Shoe" to a tour group inside of the Van Wyck Lefferts tidal grist mill in Huntington. (July 9, 2012) (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

The three-story Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Grist Mill stands as a relic of centuries past, contrasting sharply with the modern houses and boats around it in Huntington.

Joanne Schenendorf, 58, of Huntington, was one of the 13 people who recently took a two-hour tour of the mill, which is on Mill Pond in Huntington Bay. Along with two of her friends, Michelle Warren, 54, of Woodbury and Lynn Delman, 50, of Old Westbury, she was able to enjoy a short boat ride on the bay, climb to the second story of the building and get a history lesson of the mill, where flour was once made.

"It was informative," says Schenendorf. "I learned something about tide mills I didn't know."

 

ABOUT THE MILL

For many Huntington residents, the wooden mill, built in 1795, has always been a sight to see but never a site to visit. Glenn Waldmann, 60, grew up a half-mile from it on West Mill Road but never set foot in the building until this tour, hosted by the Huntington Historical Society. "It's a real treat for me to finally be able to poke around," says Waldmann.

Only accessible by a five-minute boat ride, the mill is on a fieldstone dam, where the sound of rushing water prevails and the faint smell of salt water lingers.

After the boat docks, visitors can walk around on the dam, gaze out over the calm water and see where the water wheel of the mill used to turn. The mill is unique because it harnessed tidal energy to power itself.

 

WHAT YOU'LL SEE

Although the exterior of the structure is a fading brown, the interior still boasts intact machinery and gears. The first floor has a low ceiling, but the second floor is a bit of a climb. Visitors must brave a wooden staircase without handrails and duck their heads so they don't hit a low-lying wooden beam. But the reward is a scenic view of the bay and a more extensive look into how the mill functioned.

Tour guide Bob Rubner of Huntington not only discusses the technical aspects of how the mill made flour, but he also recounts how the structure changed ownership and paints a picture of what mill life was like.

Running a mill "was sort of a nervous business," explains Rubner, as he talks about the costs of upkeep and market prices of flour in the 18th and 19th centuries. This mill, which is owned by the Nature Conservancy, was never modernized, unlike the still-running Stony Brook grist mill. "It stayed the way it was, pretty much," Rubner says.

Rubner says that this tide mill is one of the best preserved in the country, giving historians and visitors a better idea of how certain technologies worked and overcame challenges before modernization.

"It's amazing that they were able to put this mill] together ... with the tools they had at the time," Warren says.

The preserved mill references a nostalgic past when wooden machinery dominated over steel parts and workers were paid with goods rather than paper money.

"It's a fabulous tour," Waldmann says. "This is an absolutely unique gem that has made it through the corridors of time relatively unscathed and is something most definitely worth preserving for the future."

 

Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill tour

WHEN|WHERE 9:30 a.m. July 31, Aug. 15, Sept. 14 and 28. Other trips scheduled in October and November. Boat leaves from dock at Gold Star Battalion Beach, Huntington. Reservations recommended.

INFO 631-427-7045 ex. 401, huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org

ADMISSION $15

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