The Old Mill, Nantucket
June 29, 2023
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Located at 50 Prospect Street, Nantucket, The Old Mill is among the island’s most popular attractions.  It was built over two centuries ago and tells a lot about the past life on the island.  The Mill has scarcely been repaired and tampered with; most parts are original.

The Old Mill was used and is still used to grind corn, producing about 5 bushels an hour.  It stands 50 feet high and features four vanes that measure 30 feet in length.  A long spar keeps rotating, turning the sails into the wind.  The blades are connected to a driving wheel at the top of the Mill.

The interior mechanism is connected to the wheel and features wooden cogs intersecting with wooden teeth in a vertical shaft.  The shaft’s movement causes an upper grindstone to revolve, consequently grinding corn into a meal.

To counteract the force of the wind is a crude break.  It features a heavy box of stone connected to a heavy oak beam using a rope.  Raising and lowering the box of stone controls the functioning of the shaft.

The Old Mill’s History

The Mill was built in 1746  by a local sailor, Nathan Wilbur.  He needed it to help with his plan of harvesting corn.  At the time, there wasn’t anything like it on the island; thus, many people didn’t believe in his idea.  They refused to cooperate in helping him build it until they saw it work.

However, this did not discourage him.  In his many travels around the world, he had seen Mills produce incredible results and wanted to achieve the same on the island.  Moreover, he was a skilled carpenter. Using wooden pins, scrap metal, and oaken beams that had been washed ashore from wrecked ships, he used his skills and knowledge to construct the Old Mill.  Wilbur derived his inspiration from Holland’s mill design; thus, the Old Mills’ build is like no other in the country.

In 1828, Jared Gardner bought the mill for 20 dollars.  By then, it had been in constant use for decades and was in quite a sorry state.  Being a carpenter, Gardner restored it to its initial glory.  In 1866, he sold it to John Francis Sylvia, who used it until 1892, when it became too worn out.  The Mill was left idle for around five years.  It was then sold at an auction, and Caroline French purchased it for $850.  Unlike its previous owners, who used it for their interests, she donated the mill to the Nantucket Historical Association.

The association made repairs and opened its doors in 1898 for summer visitors.  To this day, it is in charge of managing and maintaining the old Mill.  Visitors from around the world often visit the Mill in the summer months for a trip back in history.  It is the only one standing among the four mills constructed on the island.  The Old Mill is also termed the oldest operating windmill in the US that is still in its original location.

You may visit the old Mill with a tour guide or by yourself.  The tour will take about half an hour, during which you will learn an in-depth history and how it works.  You’ll also be able to sit in the Mill and watch how it works.

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