What to Do
The Old Mill
The oldest working wind powered grain mill in the country, The Old Mill was built in 1746 by Nathan Wilbur, a Nantucket seaman, who had seen similar mills operating in Holland.
It was one of four mills that operated on a hill to the west of Nantucket Town.
It was known as a smock mill, a term used to describe a fixed building, holding the mill machinery with a top that could be rotated to face the mill’s sails into the wind. Beams washed ashore from wrecked vessels along with scrap metal were used to construct the building’s framework.
The sails attached to 30-foot frames, would turn a wooden cog that was attached to another cog on the top of a long spar, itself attached to the top grinding stone. When in operation, the mill can grind about 5 bushels of corn an hour. The machinery includes a mechanism that can be used to slow down the wheel in heavy winds. It consists of a heavy oak beam pressed against mill spar and a box of stone weighing several hundred pounds that can be raised with a rope and pulley to place pressure against the turning spar.
Wilbur sold the mill in 1750 to John Swain , whose family owned the mill until 1828, when it was sold to Jared Gardner for firewood. Rather than tear it down, Gardner, a carpenter, restored the mill and again used to grind corn.
A number of years after Gardner died, George Enas purchased the mill for $150. He was the first of three owners of Portuguese descent, who used the mill to build their modest holdings on the island during difficult economic times.
John Sylvia, a Portuguese miller of Azorean descent, purchased the mill in 1866 and operated it for many years, until it fell into disuse in 1892.
The Old Mill was acquired by the Nantucket Historical Society in 1897. The society repaired the mill and reopened it a year later as a display for summer visitors.
The Old Mill is the oldest working wind powered mill in the United States.
Need to know
Address: 50 Prospect Street
Organization: Nantucket Historical Society
Monday - Saturday, 10 A.M. - 5 P.M.
Sunday 12 P.M. - 5 P.M.
Tours of historic sites on the hour and the half-hour. Last tour at 4:30 P.M.
Seeing mill in operation
Also available in combination with Whaling Museum admission.