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A Long History of Wind Power in East Hampton

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Historic photo of the Hook Mill on North Main Street in East Hampton. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Historic photo of the Hook Mill on North Main Street in East Hampton. Courtesy Library of Congress.

By Tessa Raebeck

With the reemergence of wind power on the East End, the area has come full circle, harkening back to the days as early as 1650 when early settlers relied heavily on the wind to help grind their grain into flour.

“They started right at the beginning,” East Hampton Town’s historic preservation consultant Robert Hefner said of windmills in the town, which was one of the first English settlement in New York.

Watermills were not suitable for the region’s flat topography, so the windmill became the logical choice for energy. Although modern windmills—wind turbines—are used to generate electricity, windmills were originally developed for milling grain for food production, evolving to supply power for many additional industrial and agricultural needs until the early 20th century.

East Hampton’s colonial settlers came from an area of England that used windmill technology for grinding grains. Although most windmills in early East Hampton were used as gristmills, grinding wheat, corn and rye, there were also a handful of wind-powered sawmills in the town.

The inside of the Hook Mill in East Hampton. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The inside of the Hook Mill in East Hampton. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Mr. Hefner estimates there were some three windmills in the Village of East Hampton and two or so in Amagansett at any given time.

Gardiners Island, which was given as a gift to Lion Gardiner in 1639 by the Montaukett people, had its own windmill.

Out of 43 traditional windmills built in New York State, 33 were on the East End. Fourteen of those were in East Hampton. Sag Harbor has had two in its history.

The English-style windmills of the East End, which vary from the Dutch style used on the western part of Long Island, are smock mills. They use sails that are pitched so that when the wind strikes them, they turn. As the sails turn, they rotate what’s called a wind shaft, a giant wooden timber the sails are passed through.

Mounted on the wind shaft inside the cap of the mill is the brake wheel, a large wooden gear some 7 feet in diameter. That gear, in turn, rotates another gear, transferring the motion from a horizontal to a vertical direction down into the mill. In the center of the mill is an upright vertical shaft that turns and on top of that timber another gear is mounted, which, in the case of a gristmill, turns the millstone.

“The gears are calibrated so that…they don’t turn very fast,” Mr. Hefner said Tuesday. “But the gears are set out in such a way that the slow motion of the sails eventually produces a faster rotation of the millstone.”

A “very famous craftsman,” according to Mr. Hefner, Nathaniel Dominy built the Hook Mill in East Hampton in 1806 and the historic Gardiners Island Mill in 1795.

Samuel Schellinger of the Amagansett Schellingers, a family that has lived in East Hampton continuously since colonial times, was another skilled millwright in the town.

“It was definitely a specialized skill, which came from England to America, and then on Long Island, they sort of developed some things themselves that are different here than anywhere else,” Mr. Hefner said of Mr. Dominy, Mr. Schellinger and other local craftsmen. “There are little things that sort of develop in each particular region.”

The sails must face into the wind in order for the windmill to operate, but the wind, naturally, comes from all different directions. So, the cap on top of the tower needs to be turned to face the sails into the wind.

Settlers first turned the cap—and thus the sails—using a big pole and lever, but Mr. Dominy of East Hampton invented a way to turn the cap using gearing inside of the mill itself instead.

The inside of the historic Hook Mill in East Hampton. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The inside of the historic Hook Mill in East Hampton. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Many gristmills fell out of use in the 1850s, when flour started to be made in steam-powered mills, one of which was built in Bridgehampton.

“It was easier, less expensive,” Mr. Hefner said.

Gristmills were pushed further out of use when the railroad was extended to the East End during the 1870s and flour began being shipped out from New York City.

“But the mills operated here—some of them into the 1920’s for animal feed,” Mr. Hefner said. “And then some people, just by habit I guess, preferred to grind their own wheat in the windmill, so it did hang on for quite a while after manufactured flour was available from the steam-powered mills.”

Some of the first summer colony houses in the town, Mr. Hefner said, had their own wind pumps, “little towers with a water tank and a little windmill on top that would pump the water up for household use.” That technology was also commonly used on farms.

Mr. Hefner estimates gristmills, the original East Hampton windmills, were still in use in East Hampton until about 1920. The iconic Hook Mill on North Main Street operated regularly until 1908.

“There was a period then when electricity took over for electrical pumps, and then there’s the interval where there really were no windmills, before the most recent use of them to generate electricity,” he said.

After a nearly 100-year hiatus, it appears wind power is coming back to East Hampton.

“It makes sense, right?” said Mr. Hefner. “There’s a lot of power in the wind, so it makes sense.”

Cookbook Revolutionaries: East Hampton Chefs Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey

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“The grandest picnic of all time” on Gardiner’s Island with (left to right) Pierre Franey, Jacques Pépin, Roger Fessaguet, Jean Vergnes, and René Verdon, 1965. Photo courtesy East Hampton Historical Society.

“The grandest picnic of all time” on Gardiner’s Island with (left to right) Pierre Franey, Jacques Pépin, Roger Fessaguet, Jean Vergnes, and René Verdon, 1965. Photo courtesy East Hampton Historical Society.

By Tessa Raebeck

In the early ’90s, Pierre Franey hit a deer while driving in Springs. Always dedicated to using the freshest ingredients in his cooking, the famous chef tossed the carcass in his trunk and brought it home to make venison. When he opened the trunk when he arrived home on Gerard Drive, however, the deer that was supposed to be dinner jumped out and ran away.

Although it didn’t work out that evening, Mr. Franey and best friend and collaborator Craig Claiborne are widely credited as being the fathers of the fresh food movement.

The duo, who wrote weekly food articles, restaurant reviews, countless recipes and co-authored 10 books over a 20-year collaboration, will be honored by the East Hampton Historical Society at a new exhibition, “Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey: Cookbook Revolutionaries in East Hampton,” which will have an opening reception next Friday, May 30.

Although they came from vastly different backgrounds, Mr. Franey having grown up in Burgundy, France, and Mr. Claiborne in Sunflower, Mississippi, the friends found common ground in their love for cooking, fresh ingredients and the East End. Mr. Claiborne and Mr. Franey both lived in Springs, surrounded by famous friends and creative spirits.

Mr. Claiborne, raised on southern cuisine in the kitchen of his mother’s boarding house, used his G.I. Bill benefits from serving in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War to attend school in Switzerland. In 1957, he started a long-time career as food editor and restaurant critic for The New York Times. In addition to vastly broadening the scope of the paper’s dining coverage, his columns and cookbooks introduced ethnic cuisines, such as Asian, Cajun and Mexican food, to a generation of Americans known for their love of frozen TV dinners. His “New York Times Cookbook” became “one of the most bought and sought cookbooks of its generation,” according to society director Richard Barons.

“People are still using the recipes,” he added. “It’s not like some cookbooks that just sort of disappear. The “New York Times Cookbook” is still a viable force in the kitchen.”

Best known for his popular TV cooking shows like “Cuisine Rapide” and his “60 Minute Gourmet” column, also in The New York Times, Mr. Franey first came to the U.S. to cook in the French Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. He stayed stateside, working for various companies, and was hired by the Times in 1975 to be a core figure in its brand new Living section (now the Dining section). His column was a huge success, ultimately appearing in over 360 newspapers worldwide. Mr. Franey authored or co-authored (most often with Mr. Claiborne) 15 cookbooks and a memoir during his lifetime and had several television shows, including “Cooking in France,” which won the James Beard Foundation Award for best cooking show in 1995, shortly before his death.

The pair, who became fast friends, met in the 1950s when Mr. Franey was working at Le Pavillon, “one of the great restaurants in the history of New York” according to Mr. Barons.

“They began to talk and it just sort of developed into this wonderful relationship where they would share ideas, share restaurants, share recipes,” Mr. Barons said.

Together, Mr. Franey and Mr. Claiborne championed fresh ingredients, diverse dishes and, in essence, good, nutritious food.

“The 1940s and ’50s was not an era of particularly creative cooking,” said Mr. Barons. “It didn’t stress fresh things, it was an era that was still captivated by canned goods and, particularly by the 1950s, the whole wonder of frozen vegetables and frozen food… it really was a Wonder Bread world.”

“They were very free form in thinking in their food. They weren’t stodgy in any sense of the word; they kept very up to date, which is probably the reason they did so many cookbooks,” Mr. Barons said, adding that there are some 50 cookbooks between the two of them, including salt-free and low calorie recipe books and those that contain recipes that take less than an hour to prepare.

Pierre Franey and Craig Claiborne cooking in Mr. Claiborne's kitchen in the Clearwater neighborhood of Springs in the late 1970s. Photo courtesy East Hampton Historical Society.

Pierre Franey and Craig Claiborne cooking in Mr. Claiborne’s kitchen in the Clearwater neighborhood of Springs in the late 1970s. Photo courtesy East Hampton Historical Society.

“We just assume that these things have always been done, but we begin to realize that so much of it was codified during that period,” he added.

They brainstormed recipes at Mr. Claiborne’s house—a gigantic kitchen with bathroom and bedroom attached as an afterthought—and hosted meals in Mr. Franey’s backyard overlooking Gardiner’s Bay.

One of the most famous gatherings prepared by the pair was a picnic on Gardiner’s Island hosted by Mr. Claiborne on August 1, 1965. Often called “the grandest picnic of all time,” the event was held for Robert David Lyon Gardiner and attended by a smattering of celebrity chefs and famous friends.

“These were extraordinary events,” Mr. Barons said, adding that Jean Vergnes, Lauren Bacall and Danny Kaye were some of the guests.

Photos from the picnic, weddings and other events, as well as cookbooks, newsletters, the French copper weathervane that hung in Mr. Franey’s kitchen, the French china Mr. Claiborne served meals on and an early American wooden bowl that Mr. Claiborne gave his friend as a housewarming gift when he moved to East Hampton will be on display at the exhibition, as well as many other artifacts.

“Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey: Cookbook Revolutionaries in East Hampton” will be on exhibit from May 31 through July 13 at Clinton Academy, 151 Main Street in East Hampton. An opening reception will be held Friday, May 30, from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit easthamptonhistory.org or call 324-6850.

East Hampton Historical Society Hosts Reading of 19th Century Resident’s Diary

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Clinton Academy in East Hampton. Courtesy of Clinton Academy.

Clinton Academy in East Hampton. Photo courtesy of Clinton Academy.

By Tessa Raebeck 

At Clinton Academy Museum Friday, the East Hampton Historical Society presents “An Eagle Eye on East Hampton’s Main Street: Cornelia Huffington’s Vivid Diary, 1820 – 1860.” Portraying Cornelia Huffington, East Hampton’s Barbara Borsack will read from the diary, with an introduction by local historian Hugh King.

Refreshments and cookies will be served for an hour prior to the program, which starts at 7 p.m. The free reading is Friday, March 31 at Clinton Academy Museum, 151 Main Street in East Hampton. Call 324-6850 or visit easthamptonhistory.org for more information.

John Howard Payne’s East Hampton Memories

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By Stephen J. Kotz

By all accounts, John Howard Payne is one of the most revered names in East Hampton history, even if he didn’t spend that much time there and didn’t actually live in the house now known as “Home, Sweet Home” that now occupies such a central place, both literally and figuratively, in the heart of the village.

So, it is hard to believe that Payne, whose famous song was later claimed by the village as its own sentimental anthem, inadvertently managed to tick off a good part of the local population when he wrote a lengthy description of its inhabitants that appeared in a 1838 edition of The Sag Harbor Corrector (a forerunner of this newspaper and one of the first papers to be published on the East End.)

History buffs will get an opportunity to find out what all the fuss was about when the East Hampton Historical Society, as part of its Winter Lecture Series, presents “The Rustic Manners of Old East Hampton: John Howard Payne’s 1838 Recollections of His Boyhood” at Clinton Academy on Friday night at 7 p.m.

Andrew Botsford, the associate editor of “The Southampton Review” and a visiting professor at Stony Brook Southampton, who is familiar sight on East End stages, will take on the role of the playwright and actor Payne in reading an abridged version of his essay.

He will be joined by Evan Thomas and Samantha Ruddock, who will perform a scene from Payne’s most famous work, the operetta “Clari, the Maid of Milan,” from which the song, “Home, Sweet Home,” was taken.

Hugh King, the director of the village’s Home, Sweet Home museum, said Payne’s description of life in East Hampton had a convoluted genesis.

“He visited because he was going to write about William Martin Johnson, a neglected American poet who lived for awhile in East Hampton,” said Mr. King. “He was rummaging about, trying to learn more about Johnson when he began to write his own description of the community.”

What set Payne’s piece apart, according to Mr. King, is that rather than marshal a long list of facts about East Hampton, Payne instead attempted to create an impressionistic image of the village as he remembered  it from his childhood and how it largely remained, isolated as it was from the outside world.

It includes descriptions of “the sullen roar” of the Atlantic, a school marm who threatens her charges with the “terrors of ‘sarpints and scorpings’ in an awful cellar” below the schoolhouse if they don’t keep up with their lessons, and village dogs, who would lie patiently on the floor of the church during Sunday services before rising up after the benediction and departing quietly much like their human masters.

Payne, who was born in 1791 in New York City and who spent much of his adult life acting on the London stage, had returned to the United States in the early 1930s and was busy trying to launch a magazine that would, he hoped, do much to dispel the reputation of the United States for being a country of uncivilized barbarians in the eyes of the English and other Europeans.

A descendent of the Hedges and Talmage families, Payne apparently spent some of his childhood in East Hampton, so he had good reason to return there. His grandparents lived in Home, Sweet Home, and his father, William Payne, was the first teacher at Clinton Academy, the first school to be chartered by the New York State Regents, in the days long before Core Curriculum extended much beyond handwriting and arithmetic.

The description of the village, which apparently set off such a tempest, was at first set aside and then ended up being combined with Payne’s article about Johnson, which was published in two parts in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review.

In those days, local newspapers would collect tidbits of information from the surrounding area and run larger, syndicated articles, so it is reasonable to assume that is how The Corrector came to publish the Payne piece in its March 10, 1838 issue.

Robert P. Rushmore, writing in the Long Island Historical Journal, said that East Hampton residents, upon reading Payne’s article, likely “felt that he had invaded their privacy and exposed them to the eyes of strangers. They must have especially resented his droll account of their Sunday church service, his attempts to reproduce their dialect, and his witty description of their houses facades as faces without foreheads” because most were built relatively low to the ground.

Apparently, Mr. Rushmore concluded, Payne’s subjects saw ridicule and condescension where the writer intended to express his admiration for the village’s “old-fashioned integrity, its love of neatness and order, and its independence, industry and republican spirit.”

In any event, villagers soon forgot about their animosity. By the late 1890’s, Payne’s song, with its well known lines, “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam/Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,” had become established as a perennial favorite. Payne himself had become something of a local hero as East Hampton residents assumed he must have been referring to the saltbox home of his grandparents and the picturesque village itself when he wrote it.

“The Rustic Manners of Old East Hampton: John Howard Payne’s 1838 Recollections of His Boyhood” will be held at Clinton Academy Museum on Main Street in East Hampton on February 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is free, but contributions are appreciated. For more information, call the East Hampton Historical Society at 324-6850.


Keeping it Real: Finding Fakes and Forgeries

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web Chippendale lowboy

by Emily J. Weitz

It’s yard sale season in the Hamptons, soon to be followed by antique fairs. Crafty shoppers wake up at dawn to track down the find of the year: an 18th century bureau or a vase carried out of war-torn Europe. But with all these uncertified people selling their stories as well as their wares, the question is: how do you know it’s authentic?

Charles F. Hummel, curator emeritus and adjunct professor at Winterthur Museum in Delaware, has been studying this subject for most of his life. He plans to give an in-depth talk on the subject of fakes and forgeries in the antique world at the East Hampton Historical Society next week.

“This is a consciousness-raising talk,” says Hummel. “Collectors, curators, and people concerned about authenticity have to know that this is a problem that goes back to antiquity.”

Hummel cites documented examples of forgeries in the United States as early as 1841.

“There was an extensive interview with a faker in Maine published in a Maine newspaper that year,” he says. “I was shocked. I didn’t realize it started that early.”

It’s not that fakes and forgeries are an everyday thing, Hummel clarifies.

“The biggest problem isn’t so much fakes and forgeries at all,” he says. “The biggest problems are the well-crafted handmade reproductions that have passed over the line. Once they’ve crossed that line, they never go back. That’s a major problem for collectors.”

Hummel says that anyone who collects with frequency is bound to make a mistake some time; and he, too, has fallen victim. He’ll share his mistakes at the talk, as well as why he made the mistake and how it could be avoided.

“The more people specialize in what they collect,” he says, “the more experience they’ll gain in being able to tell whether an object is made in the period or not.”

Once someone carves out a specialty for themselves, they’ll also create connections with dealers they trust, and will be in a better position to buy mindfully.

“Once you specialize, you can deal with dealers who specialize,” he says. “If you work in ceramics, you only work with dealers who sell ceramics. If you specialize in prints, work with dealers who sell only prints. Dealers who sell across the board general material won’t be experts on everything.”

Another thing collectors need to do if they’re serious about the business, Hummel says, is start a library. It should consist of lots of images, and a great collector will have these images committed to memory. That way they can more easily identify when they’re out in the field. There are little giveaways that, if you know the time period you’re looking at, will let you know whether something is authentic.

“Say you’re collecting brasswares,” says Hummel. “Antique brass is light in weight, and modern brass is heavy. Same with ceramics. Antique ceramics are light and newer ones, the body is heavier.”

Another item people collect are prints. The simplest rule, he says, is that prints should not be collected in frames.

“Many prints survived into the 19th and 20th century,” he says. “From those original plates, people have made restrikes. If you are interested in a print made in 1728, you should not have to pay the same for the one struck in 1860… I’ll be giving all sorts of tips like this at the talk.”

Hummel will be discussing some of the primary collections people tend to have: In the morning, he’ll talk about ceramics, ironware, prints, pewter, and silver. After a break for lunch, he’ll give an extensive talk on furniture.

“This has been a part of my life and career for over fifty years,” says Hummel. “When I first started training people for careers in museums, I had to put a strong emphasis on determining authenticity of objects. If you are writing about something, you don’t want to be writing about something that isn’t what it purports to be.”

Hummel hopes the talk will not discourage people from buying, but rather will help to inform them so they can buy more conscientiously.

“We’ll look at a lot of images, assessing our powers of observation. I’ll show some comparisons, ask who would buy one of these… The purpose of the talk is to give them enough information to prevent them from letting their enthusiasm overcome their good judgment.”

History of Toys: Annual Antique Toy Exhibit at Clinton Academy Museum

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toy tractor

By Vanessa Pinto

Think back to your best Christmas present ever. Was it a Flexible Flyer, or Barbie’s Dream House or maybe a gigantic tin of Lincoln Logs?

The holidays have always been an exciting time for youngsters, and throughout the generations, on Christmas eve many a tot has lain awake with anticipation, wondering what will be left under the tree for them.

Though children who lived a century ago or more did not play with mass produced toys made by companies like Mattel or Milton Bradley, they still had their own magical and sentimental collection of unique tin, wooden or ceramic toys that captured the imagination on Christmas morning. Often, these durable toys would be shared by all the children in the family and then passed down to younger generations to cherish for a lifetime.

But have you ever thought about where toys and games came from in the old days? On Saturdays and Sundays until December 19, the East Hampton Historical Society is featuring “A Children’s World” its annual antique toy exhibit, allowing visitors to step into the past and see the collection of preserved toys from the Colonial and Victorian period as well toys from the 20th century up to 1960.

“We want it to look different each year, offering something new for the visitors,” explains Richard Barons, executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society and curator of the exhibit. He adds that there are new toys displayed each year, with some from past years’ exhibits making an appearance as well.

The ageless toys on view come from the historical society and other Long Island museums as well as private collectors. Many of the toys once belonged to children who lived in East Hampton and among the eclectic collection are porcelain and china dolls, games, bicycles, blocks, puzzles, a model airplane, and wooden pull toys.

Though most of the antique toys in the exhibition were made at home, Barons notes that some of the toys were made in factories or toy shops, but he adds the production run would have been extremely limited when compared to today’s numbers, with fewer than 30 of the same toy produced in some cases.

Barons explains that in the old days, toys were manufactured or created through different processes. Some were hand painted, others, like puzzle blocs and wooden trucks, had lithograph prints attached to them.

He also points out that a handmade dressing bureau that was used by children to perhaps keep doll clothes safe, would most likely have been modeled after furniture in the home. Many such miniature bureaus are, for that reason, one of a kind. The wooden bureau displayed in this exhibit was locally crafted in the early 1800s, and hand painted with decorative fixtures.

A sleigh holding an assortment of gift packages was also made locally —in East Hampton — in a carriage factory near Gay Street, adds Barons. A bicycle on display with one very large wheel and a small rear wheel, also known as penny-farthing, was almost as daring to ride as a unicycle today. Barons notes it was generally ridden by teenagers in East Hampton in days gone boy.

“Toys were especially very dear to children during the Colonial period,” says Barons. “Siblings usually shared their toys and they were passed down to younger siblings as they grew older.”

“It wasn’t until after the Civil War period that children from privileged families generally received 15 to 20 gifts at Christmas,” explains Barons who adds that children in the Victorian era received more toys because that was when they first began to be manufactured in higher numbers. By the 1880s, most toys were commercially made.

During the 19th century, girls generally had one to two dolls. Parents would purchase the head made of either china, Parian, porcelain or paper-mâché (which was more expensive), and then craft the cloth or orchid leather body and made clothes from scraps of cloth. Some porcelain dolls’ faces were treated with bisque firing, so the face did not have a shinny finish and instead resembled flesh, explains Barons. He adds that dolls made in Germany had a bisque finish to create pale faces. The dolls were preserved by being wrapped in acid free tissue paper and placed in acid free boxes.

For the boys, cast iron hook and ladder fire trucks and model airplanes were popular in the early part of the 20th century. Cast iron trucks, crafted between 1910 and 1915, were much more expensive than tin toys. Model airplanes were assembled by teens mostly during the 1920s. Wooden pull toys have always been popular for younger children.

A cat on display in the exhibit that was hand embroidered and filled with straw would be comparable to today’s stuffed animal. In 1880, the German company Steiff, which specializes in plush toys, was founded and by the early 20th century, those with a little more money to spend could purchase one of the company’s high quality teddy bears — which fans of Antiques Road Show know fetch a bundle today.

Harrods of London, England also sold high-end toys such as hand stenciled wood miniatures, painted with lead based paint.

“The manufacturers thought it was great because you could varnish it and thus it was widely used for toys,” explains Barons. “People did not know back then that lead paint was toxic.”

“A Children’s World” exhibit will be open to the public Saturdays from 10 to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m. until Sunday, December 19 at the Clinton Academy Museum, 151 Main Street, East Hampton. For more information visit www.easthamptonhistory.org.