A Walk Through Shelter Island’s Dominy Windmill
By Mahreen Khan
Situated in a comfortable 6-acre field on Shelter Island, surrounded by vast vegetation, cultivated berries, plants, vegetables, chickens and heritage pigs, is the historic Dominy Windmill. It is lacking sails; its shingles are dilapidated and browned and its windows are infested with cobwebs. But the mill, constructed in 1810 and transported to the island in 1842, has held strong despite its 207 years of existence — and now, its overseers are gearing up for a full restoration.
Jo-Ann Robotti is the executive director of the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm and Courtney Wingate is the 240-acre farm’s director of development.
“This icon that’s been sitting there for all these years, it’s going to be back to what it should be — not only for Sylvester Manor, but for all of Shelter Island,” Ms. Wingate said.
The mill, which was built in Southold by former East Hampton craftsman Nathaniel Dominy V is one of 11 wind-powered gristmills to have survive the 18th and early-19th centuries on Long Island, according to historic documents. It is also believed to be the only one built on the North Fork to have survived.
“We hear and read so much about authenticity in this mass-produced fast-paced era,” Ms. Robotti said. “The things that really resonate with people are the ones that are authentic, that are unique and have a story to tell.”
To tell this story, the staff put together an elaborate cocktail party, scheduled for next Friday, from which ticket sales will benefit the restoration and preservation of the windmill. A total of $65,000 has already been raised, Ms. Wingate said, plus a $50,000 matching gift. The total cost estimated for a full interior and exterior restoration, short of the grinding piece, is $230,000, after which time the mill will be made available for public tours and demonstrations.
“We’re going to be doing this in stages, so the first stage would be the exterior, which would be getting the frames up for the sails and doing the windows, the doors, the foundation, etc.,” Ms. Wingate said. “The second stage will be doing the interior mechanism for the actual sails to start turning. The goal is to have it in working order so that when the sails go around, all the gears inside turn. Eventually down the line, we may consider grinding grain again because it will be up to standards, but the short-term goal is to have it in operational condition, so that we can educate our community about the history and the culture of food as it relates to the windmill and Sylvester Manor, and the history of Shelter Island as well.”
Though the team is not yet sure how long the restoration process will take, they plan to have Jim Kricker of Roundout Woodworking repurpose the structure. Mr. Kricker is a wood crafter, who deals with wooden boats, mills and barns. Given that the mill is made predominantly of wood, and that the interior is, to this day, fairly intact — despite a few missing floorboards and obvious operating inadequacies — Ms. Robotti and Ms. Wingate say Rondout is a trusted company that will successfully restore the community symbol.
The sails last turned at a Shelter Island Boy Scouts demonstration in the early ’60s, according to the Manor’s site — meaning the prospective first stage of construction will likely be a momentous one.
“I can pretty much guarantee you that there are going to be some community members on Shelter Island that will shed a tear when they see that turning for the first time,” Ms. Wingate said.
Dominy built four of the 11 still-standing windmills, including the Hook Mill in East Hampton — which has undergone two different renovations and received the love that Ms. Wingate says the Dominy Windmill will hopefully soon receive as well.
The Cocktail Party at the Windmill is scheduled for Friday, August 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, 21 Manwaring Road on Shelter Island. Tickets cost $125 each, plus a $3.49 fee — with no refunds being disbursed. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit sylvestermanor.org/cocktail-party-at-the-windmill/. Donations for the restoration may also be made through the site.