About the Old Mill
Built in 1746 by Nathan Wilbur, a Nantucket sailor who had spent time in Holland, the “Old Mill” is the oldest functioning mill in the country.
It is the only surviving mill of the four “smock mills” that once stood overlooking Nantucket town. There was a fifth Nantucket mill called “Round-Top Mill” on the site of the present New North Cemetery.
Smock mills have a fixed-body containing machinery, and a cap that turns to face the sails into the wind. The Old Mill was sold for twenty dollars in 1828 to Jared Gardner in deplorable condition for use as “firewood.”
Instead of dismantling it, Gardner, a carpenter by trade, restored the mill to working condition capable of grinding corn.
The mill was sold once again in 1866 to John Francis Sylvia, a Portuguese miller of Azorean descent, who operated it for many years with his assistant Peter Hoy, until it fell into disuse in 1892. When the mill appeared on the auction block in 1897, the Nantucket Historical Association was able to secure the mill with a successful bid of $885.
After some minor repairs over the years — and major overhauls in 1930, 1936, and 1983 — the mill is capable of grinding corn just as it did two hundred and fifty years ago. Believed to be the oldest American windmill in continuous operation, the Old Mill was designated an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1992.