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Tacky Takeover of Village’s Iconic Mills

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 08:02


If you might excuse the cliché, Nathaniel Dominy IV is probably turning in his grave over what has gone on lately with his windmills. 

Ever since a new mind-set took over Village Hall, the once-seasonal Christmas lights on the vanes have been left on year round, cheapening their effect at the holidays. But worse -- and making a mockery of the windmills' restrained dignity as a symbol of the entire town -- they have been bathed in upward-pointed light -- red and a "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" green at the moment, that can be changed as fancy strikes. 

The lights are tacky and in bad taste, certainly, but there is a more serious issue: disregard for the Main Street Historic District, as well as for village law itself. As in the village code, holiday lights are allowed only between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15 of the following year. "Uplighting," of the sort pointed into trees or onto sides of the mills, is prohibited.

East Hampton Town can lay claim to three windmills built by the celebrated early American Dominy craftsman: a 1795 mill on Gardiner's Island, the 1804 Gardiner Mill on James Lane, and the 1806 Hook Mill. There is also a Dominy windmill at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, built in 1810. But mills to grind wheat, rye, flax seed, and corn were far from the Dominy family's only contribution to East Hampton and beyond. Another mill owned by the village and built by Samuel Schellinger at the beginning of the 19th century has been tarted up as well.

The story begins with Nathaniel Dominy IV, who was born in 1737 and died in 1812, and his father, listed in town records as a carpenter. Windmills were only part of the younger Dominy's work. In addition to running an all-purpose workshop, where one could get a gunstock made or a wooden rake repaired, Dominy mastered clockmaking and pocket watch repair.

Nathaniel Dominy V (1770 to 1852) expanded the family's output into fine cabinets and furniture, houses, and barns. Felix Dominy (born 1800, died 1868), trained with his grandfather, Nathaniel IV, and concentrated on clockmaking and watch repair. Beginning in 1940, Dominy heirs worked with the internationally recognized Winterthur Museum in Delaware to preserve many of the family's tools, accounts, and manuscripts. Winterthur displays examples of Dominy furniture and household objects and has recreated their clock and woodwork shops as "a rare opportunity to glimpse a typical working environment of rural craftsmen active two centuries ago."

Each of the East Hampton mills is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the East Hampton Village Historic District, which centers on Woods and James Lane, and includes most of Main Street. The register is administered by the National Park Service -- and that should be recognition enough, without the Las Vegas lighting.

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