After serving as a private in Col. Josiah Smith’s regiment of minute men at the Battle of Long Island, Caleb Corwith returned to Hayground and settled on Newlight Lane. His son, James, was born there in 1781. Sometime around 1800, James Corwith moved west to Water Mill and purchased land just north of the Commons for his homestead.
In 1813, James purchased a windmill that had been constructed at the turn of the century in an area then called Hog’s Neck, today known as North Haven. More than likely, he had the mill disassembled and its parts moved by teams of oxen to the Water Mill Commons, where it replaced a windmill that had been destroyed in the Christmas storm of 1811.
Historians believe the mill, a smock windmill purchased from Mr. Howell of Hog’s Neck for $750, had one pair of stones. When it was reconstructed in Water Mill, the main drive was changed to accommodate two pairs of stones of different sizes – one pair for grinding corn, the other for wheat and oats.
A 36-foot tailpole was used by the miller to manually turn the mill cap and sails into the wind. Later windmills did away with the tailpole and had a fantail mechanism that automatically moved the sails into the wind, but this mill was never modernized.
At the time the windmill was moved, it apparently was more economical to grind grain with wind power than water power. The water mill building was then being used to make paper.
At James’ death in 1868, his son Samuel bought out his four brothers and assumed the duties of miller. He also ran a general store in the building across the street, now occupied by a Japanese restaurant, Suki Zuki.
More than likely the mill was a grist mill, grinding corn for animal feed. The windmill contains a bolter, which was used to sift the chaff from flour, so we know some flour was produced from wheat and oats.
The windmill ceased to grind in 1887. One of the reasons given was the construction of a large Queen Anne summer villa that cut off the prevailing wind. I suspect another reason was the development of other means of power that provided more efficient methods of grinding grain.
Samuel Corwith sold the mill in 1891 to Josiah Lombard and Marshall Ayres, owners of the large villa that had been built to the southwest. In 1931, the house and mill were acquired by the Order of St. Dominic, which in 1934 gave the mill and “common ground” to the Water Mill Village Improvement Association. Storms in the 100 years after the mill ceased grinding took their toll on the structure. In 1987 the community accepted a challenge and restored James’ mill, making it a working grist mill once again.
Paul M. Corwith Great-great-grandson of James Corwith
The Corwith windmill is the smallest, and second oldest, of 11 surviving windmills on the South Fork of Long Island, which has the largest regional group of windmills in America. Of the local mills, it is the only example of the early type of smock mill, which had a stationary tower with a revolving cap that sat directly on a greased curb at the top of the tower Later smock windmills, such as the Hayground mill, had rollers on the curbs to facilitate rotating the cap and its wind sails.