The Pantigo Windmill in East Hampton.

The Pantigo Windmill in East Hampton. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Long Island’s historic windmills offer a glimpse into the area’s colonial past — and they’re just a short drive away on the East End.

Though the region’s propensity for blustery forecasts is not always appreciated today, Long Islanders once relied on the steady breezes off the ocean and bays to power their windmills, which they used for tasks like milling grain, sawing wood and pumping water.

The first known windmill on Long Island was built in Southold in 1644, followed by one in East Hampton in 1657. They were originally post mills, meaning they were supported by visible wooden posts, according to the book “Windmills and Water Mills of Long Island.” But by the late 18th century they transitioned to a smock mill design — structures covered with thatch or weather boarding with six or eight sides, named for their resemblance to the smocks worn by European farmers.

Today, 11 windmills remain, believed the most of anywhere in the country. Many are on the South Fork and three, in East Hampton, are open to visitors. Several others are on public property and can be viewed from the outside.

Bob Hefner, a historical preservationist in East Hampton and author of the book “Windmills of Long Island,” has made it his mission to save the area’s smock mills. He worked to ensure that all 11 structures were put on the list of the National Register of Historic Places, making them eligible for government grants that bolstered rehabilitation efforts.

East Hampton Village historian Hugh King, who is passionate about teaching local history to visitors, said the last smock mill ceased operations around 1919. But, he said, “The inner workings of these surviving mills are still intact after all these years. . . . The Hook Mill can actually turn, but we don’t activate it because it’s just too fragile. The wood is very old.”

King oversees the community’s three windmills — the Hook, Pantigo and Gardiner mills, which are open to the public and within walking distance of one another. More information can be found at bit.ly/3WPkQpU.

“Hook Mill is the primary one to visit,” Hefner said. Nearby is the Dominy Shops, a restored woodworking and clock shop, that he said would “make a complete experience of 18th-century wood technology and craftsmanship.”

Other smock mills on Long Island include Shinnecock Hills, on the campus of Stony Brook Southampton; Corwith, on the town green in Water Mill; Good Ground, part of a private cottage in Southampton; Beebe, at the corner of Ocean and Hildreath roads in Bridgehampton; Wainscott, in the private Georgica Association in Wainscott; Hayground, on Windmill Lane between the Egypt and Two-Mile Hollow beaches in East Hampton; the windmill on the privately owned Gardiner’s Island; and the windmill on Shelter Island, situated at Sylvester Manor.

With Memorial Day signaling the unofficial start of summer, a visit to these sites on the South Fork — with the chance to experience a bit of the Island’s heritage — might be in order.

Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos, about his new book, “The Situation Room, The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis.” Host: NewsdayTV Anchor Jasmine Anderson

Newsday Live: A Chat with George Stephanopoulos Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of "Good Morning America."

Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos, about his new book, “The Situation Room, The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis.” Host: NewsdayTV Anchor Jasmine Anderson

Newsday Live: A Chat with George Stephanopoulos Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of "Good Morning America."

Latest Videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME