Nantucket Windmill
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Old Mills in the United States

Exterior & History
Interior
Oldest House
Nantucket Island

Nantucket Windmill
History & Exterior
Nantucket Windmill - Perspective of Arms, Mill, Tail Piece and Wooden Wheel
Nantucket's Windmill is spectacular. Here you can view the giant arms and the enormous tail piece and wheel.
History
Nantucket Windmill was built in 1745-46 by Nathan Wilbur, a native sailor and carpenter. During his travels to Holland as a sailor he acquired his knowledge of windmill construction. Everyone who watched him build the odd configuration out of wood from wrecked ships thought he was wasting his time and energy on a foolish idea. He proved them wrong. Due to the octagonal shape of the mill there are no square joints. Each piece of lumber is dove-tailed. The octagonal framework is formed with eight one-foot square corner posts which has given this mill its longevity. Nails were expensive at that time; therefore wooden pegs were used to secure the mortise joints.

Nantucket Windmill stands fifty feet tall. Each of the four arms is thirty feet long and six feet wide. Canvas sails are usually placed on only two or the arms because the winds on Nantucket are strong. Sometimes the wind turns the arms without the sails. Just the lattice work on the arms is enough to catch the wind. These huge arms are supported by a wind shaft that turns an eleven-foot wooden wheel. The engineering of this wheel is inspiring. It is made out of six, sixty degree pieces. Sixty cogs protrude on the inside of the outer rim. These sixty wooden cogs mesh with 12 spindles turning the millstone five times as fast as the rotation of the propeller.

Nantucket Windmill has a rich and varied history. In 1936 repairs were made to the mill allowing the cap to be turned again so that operation of the mill was not dependent upon a southwest wind. When the mill was restored in 1936, it was discovered that Wilbur’s installation of the millstones had a unique story. Two huge Quincy granite millstones quarried about 1745 were lying in front of the mill. They had never been used. It was surmised that the pulley and tackle Wilbur had was not sufficient to hoist the 3000 pounds of granite up to the second floor where he had designed the mill to set the stones. After realizing these stones were too heavy he ordered some special stones that only weighed 2000 pounds. He ordered one bottom stone and two top stones. Apparently while installing the stones the bottom stone broke because during the restoration it was discovered that Wilbur had placed one of the upper stones upside down and used it as the bottom stone. Wilbur also left the broken bottom stone in front of the mill.

In 1897, Miss Caroline L. W. French of Boston, bought the mill at an auction and gave it to the Nantucket Historical Association. That year the Historical Association restored the exterior and opened the mill to the public. The mill has since been maintained and preserved and still grinds corn meal in the summer.

Nantucket Island is 30 miles south of Cape Cod. Access to the island is by ferry or airplane.
Nantucket Windmill - Arms
This is the closeup of the windshaft and the four arms.
Nantucket Windmill - Arms
Nantucket Windmill - Exterior
Closeup of Cap at Tail Piece
The exterior of the mill is covered with shake shingles.
Nantucket Windmill - Facing the Arms
Display Mill Stone
Display Mill Stone
Nantucket Windmill - Exterior
One Arm of the Windmill
Nantucket Windmill - Doors and Windows Open and Ready to Grind Corn
When the windmill is grinding corn, the doors and windows are open.
Nantucket Windmill - Tail Piece and Wooden Wheel
From inside the mill you can see just how massive the tail piece is.
Nantucket Windmill - 90' Enormous Tail Piece
Nantucket Windmill - Wooden Wheel attached to Tail Piece
Wooden wheel is attached to the tail piece which allows the cap and mast to be rotated to catch the wind.
Nantucket Windmill - Exterior is Covered with Shake Shingles
Shake Shingles
Nantucket Windmill - Wind Shaft Artifact and Old Arms
Display
History Of Events
1746
Nathan Wilbur built the 50-foot windmill from timbers of wrecked ships that floated onto the island
?
Eliakim Swain and John Hay were 1/2 partners in the mill.
1750
Timothy Swain purchased the mill and died while working in the mill.
?
Charles Swain bought the mill.
?
Charles Swain's grandson, Nathan Swain assumed the mill.
1765
In the latter part of the 1700's there were four windmills standing on Mill Hills. Three were next to the present day Nantucket Windmill. One of the four burned in 1765. Another was used by the town to test the explosive ability of gunpowder and the mill was blown to bits. In 1873 the last of the ghost windmills was dismantled becasue it was no longer needed.
1776
It is told that during the Revolutionary War that a cannon ball was fired through the mill just missing the miller.
1828
Jared Gardner, a wheelwright, purchased the mill for $20. Gardner restored the mill and placed it back into operation.
1848
A young girl rode one of the vanes up to the highest point. The miller stopped the vane and the girl fell to the ground breaking her legs and sustained severe injuries, but did recover. Another accident happened when a cow was hit by a vane.The vane broke the cow's back and the cow died instantly.
1855
George Enes bought the mill.
1864
Captain John Murray bought and operated the mill for two years.
1866
John Francis Sylvia, a Portuguese miller bought the mill. The mill slowed production and eventually stopped operating.
1892
A few bags of corn meal were ground and sold for novelty. This was the last time it operated in the 1800's.
1897
Miss Caroline L. W. French bought the mill at an auction and gave it to the Nantucket Historical Association.
1898
The Nantucket Historical Association restored the exterior and opened the mill to the public.
Nantucket Histoical Association: Click Here for their website.
Windmill Hours: Open from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Daily.
Tours are every 1/2 hour, last tour at 3:30. Admission.
Directions: Nantucket Island, on the corner of South Mill Street, York Street and Prospect Street
Address: 50 Prospect Street, Nantucket, MA 02554
Click Here to see Nantucket Windmill at Google Maps.
Bibliography:
Beals, Fred. Windmill List. Society for the Preservation of Old Mills. Mishawaka IN 2002
Burrows, Fredrika A. Windmills on Cape Cod and the Islands Tauton, Mass: William S. Sullwold Publishing, Inc, 1978. 92-97.
Cape Cod. Map. Rand McNally, 2000.
Nantucket Historical Association. www.nha.org Nantucket MA. 2002.
"Nantucket Proud of Its Ancient Windmill." No publisher. No date.
Turner, H. B. "Nantucket's Old Wind-Mill." The Inquirer and Mirror 2 Aug 1941; Nantucket Historical Association 77-30 (22f) P.F.M.

 

 

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