A historic grist mill in Lloyd Harbor, considered the best preserved in the country, will be maintained by a new nonprofit after the Nature Conservancy decided to end its stewardship of the structure.
Lloyd Harbor resident Richard Hamburger, 65, who has lived next to the mill for 25 years, launched the Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill Sanctuary Inc. nonprofit after realizing no one else was interested in preserving the building.
"It's all upon private parties to see what they could do because this mill deserves — after being there 225 years — somebody to love it and protect it, just because it is what it is," said Hamburger, an attorney in Melville.
The Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill was built atop a dam in the late 1790s by the Van Wyck family to process wheat into flour with power generated by the tides in man-made Mill Cove pond.
The mill operated for about 70 years, Hamburger said. The 1860 U.S. Census showed the mill, at its peak operation, "ground 4,000 bushels of wheat, 500 bushels of corn, and 300 bushels of feed worth a total $7,515," according to the nonprofit.
After the mill ended operations, several families used it as a facility for swimming in nearby Puppy Cove and to have summertime gatherings in the large mill building.
And thanks to the long history of restricted development in Lloyd Harbor, the grist mill was never razed. The original wooden gears and buffalo leather belts used to process the wheat remain inside the mill, Hamburger said.
“About 10 years ago The Nature Conservancy gathered the neighbors together and said 'we don't want to do this anymore,' because it's not their mandate,” Hamburger said. “Their mission is preservation of large tracts of wide open space.”
The Nature Conservancy inherited the property and surrounding land in 1969 and 1972, back when the organization was more involved in local land trusts, said Derek Rogers, the Long Island Preserves Director of the Nature Conservancy.
“We were more of a local land trust back then in the ‘60s and ‘70s," Rogers said. "We’re a group now that’s more focused more on conservation science, such as water quality, nitrogen levels and climate change.
"With the evolution of the mission, we’re keeping an open mind to partner with people — it really enables our organization to put our financial and organizational capital on the most pressing issues, and also ensuring the preservation folks can focus 100 percent of its attention on the preservation of the mill.”
The transfer of the 17-acre property to the nonprofit was completed last month. The Nature Conservancy also awarded the group a $200,000 endowment. Hamburger said the Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill Sanctuary will be partnering with the Huntington Historical Society to continue its 10 yearly tours of the grist mill, which can only be accessed by boat during high tide.
Hamburger said there’s a long list of restoration projects he hopes to tackle at the grist mill, including repairing some damage by Superstorm Sandy.
"First thing we have to do is make some repairs to the earthen dam," he said, and added with a chuckle, “it would be a nice retirement project if I were retired."
The Van Wyck-Lefferts Tide Mill
- Built atop a dam in the late 1790s by the Van Wyck family.
- Operated for about 70 years.
- Processed"4,000 bushels of wheat, 500 bushels of corn, and 300 bushels of feed" at the peak of its operations in the mid 1800s, according to US Census data.