2014-08-21 / Front Page

Wonderful Windmills Open to the Public

Boyd's Windmill, in Paradise Park, is one of two historic windmills on the island. (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) Boyd's Windmill, in Paradise Park, is one of two historic windmills on the island. (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) Although during the Revolutionary War there were seven working windmills in Newport, not one remains today. There are, however, two old wooden windmills in nearby Middletown; both are open to the public on select days and have upcoming events, offering visitors a peek into the past of these historic structures and their importance in the community.

The Newport Restoration Foundation owns the Robert Sherman Windmill at Prescott Farm. The building is a smock mill, so named for its shape, with four vanes. Built in 1812 and originally operated in Warren in connection with a distillery, it boasts two sets of grinding stones that enabled the miller to produce double the capacity of mills typical of the day.

Robert Sherman moved the mill to Quaker Hill in Portsmouth, but soon leased it to Jacob Almy. Almy had experience running water mills but not wind mills, and he underestimated the force of wind. One winter, a snow squall caught him unprepared and unable to lower the sails or control their speed, and the wind wrecked the mill, twisting its two-foot square oak main shaft like a toothpick.

The mill passed through several hands over the years and was still working in the 1920s, one of the very last. Eventually it closed down and was idle for decades, in an ever-deteriorating condition. In 1969, Doris Duke’s newly-organized Newport Restoration Foundation acquired Sherman’s mill and moved it to the Prescott Farm site for restoration. The NRF offers Windmill Wednesdays on the last Wednesday of August and September. Although the vanes are off for repair, visitors tour the interior of the mill, exploring the first three floors. Guests enjoy music, windmill cookies and johnnycakes, and youngsters grind corn to see just what an arduous process it was.

In his memoirs detailing Boyd’s Wind Grist Mill, third-generation miller Benjamin Boyd had plenty of stories to tell, but none more terrifying than the day he was fixing a vane and had forgotten to secure the brake. No sooner had he begun to work when the breeze began to turn the blades, lifting him into the air. He wrote “I had to hang on in all positions, and every time I went over the top of the circle I was head down 45 feet from the ground.” His brother ran to his rescue, but not before Benjamin went around 30 times.

This mill is an eight-sided tower that stands almost four stories high. It was built in Portsmouth in 1810, but William Boyd bought the mill in 1815 and it has been known as Boyd’s Wind Grist Mill ever since. The structure sat on its original site for 185 years, handed down through two more generations.

It was Benjamin, William’s grandson, who remodeled the mill from four vanes to eight so that he could grind grain in light air by putting up more canvas. But, in 1916, when he installed a gas engine to turn the millstones, he no longer needed wind power at all. In 1990, the Boyd family donated the old mill to the Middletown Historical Society, and it was relocated to Paradise Park and restored.

The Society opens the mill for touring on Sundays, 2-4 p.m., through September. Windmill Day, the once-a-year running with sails billowing, will be held on Sunday, Sept. 14, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., in the midst of a themed festival of family-friendly activities. ­­– Pat Blakeley and Anita Rafael

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