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Windmill Wednesdays raise awareness about landmark’s restoration

3rd Estate, an East Hampton-based band, performs at

3rd Estate, an East Hampton-based band, performs at the last Windmill Wednesdays concert series in Sag Harbor. (Aug. 29, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Bathed in late afternoon sun, about 50 people lounged around at the small Windmill Beach in Sag Harbor on Wednesday for the last of this summer’s small, free concert series there.

Between songs, Lisa Bonner, who sang with her band 3rd Estate, turned the crowd’s attention to the tall wooden building that cast a welcome shadow over the band.

“What is a windmill without its blades?” she joked, referring to the bladeless Sag Harbor Windmill, which stands at the foot of Long Wharf in the village. “It’s just a building.”

Not if the Sag Harbor community can help it.

In an effort to raise awareness of a $60,000-restoration campaign for the windmill, which will fit it with new blades, the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce downsized and relocated its popular summer concert series, held at the nearby but larger Marine Park for more than 10 years, to bring it to the grounds of the windmill.

Kelly Connaughton, a member of the chamber’s board of trustees, said the goal was twofold: by downsizing the concert series, the chamber saved more of its limited funding for the windmill restoration; and by relocating, chamber members hoped to draw attention to the structure.

“We like to highlight all these little gems in the community,” she said. “So while we loved doing the event at Marine Park, we thought we’d try to shift the focus here.”

The windmill was built in the 1960s as a replica of the historic Beebe Windmill that was built in Sag Harbor in the 1800s and still stands in Bridgehampton.

Phil Bucking, a lifelong resident of Sag Harbor and a member of the chamber, said there were several windmills in Sag Harbor dating to the 1700s and the replica was the brainchild of a group of community members gathered for the old Whalers Festival, an annual community event that began in 1966 with John Steinbeck as the honorary chairman.

Now, the windmill serves as an information center for visitors to Sag Harbor and is to be named after former Sag Harbor Mayor John Ward.

Bucking, 48, said the windmill is the iconic image that defines Sag Harbor and is a beacon of the community.

“It’s something that is just a part of Sag Harbor,” he said. “I think most people really want to help out.”

Bucking said the village, which only this year acquired ownership of the windmill from Suffolk County, which still owns the rest of Long Wharf, realized the windmill needed to be restored when a blade broke during Tropical Storm Irene last year.

After removing the broken blade, it became obvious that all of the blades were rotting, as was much of the windmill’s structure, he said.

The $60,000 restoration estimate includes new blades, windows, a door, exterior siding and new floors.

“It’s quite a bit of work,” Bucking said, adding the chamber has raised about $23,000 so far.

Robert Evjen, president of the chamber, said the village asked three community organizations to take the lead on the restoration fundraising. Along with the chamber, the groups Save Sag Harbor, which works to preserve the character of the village, and the Sag Harbor Lions Club have been involved.

Carrie Clark, 50, of Springs, sat on a patch of grass near the windmill cheering on her son, Clark Hamilton, who was playing with 3rd Estate, which is fronted by his father, Paul Hamilton.

She said it was the only concert of the series she had been to, but she loved the location – having lived in Sag Harbor when her son was first born – and appreciated the importance of the windmill.

“It reminds me of looking at the Washington Square Monument when you’re in New York,” she said. “It’s right here at the end of Main Street and it stands as a sentinel over the wharf. They just finished a restoration like this on the windmill in East Hampton, and I think it’s critical.”

Evjen said the Windmill Wednesdays concert series has been a success, though there was an initial “push back” from the community, which showed up to the larger Marine Park series in droves each year.

But he said the new venue has proved itself and he hopes to continue holding events there in the future – though the Marine Park concert series is not necessarily gone for good.

“Although this is not historical,” he said of the windmill, “it’s got history, and it’s a really neat background for this sort of thing.”

Above: 3rd Estate, an East Hampton-based band, performs at the last Windmill Wednesdays concert series in Sag Harbor.

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