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Jamestown Windmill

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1787. 382 North Main Rd. (miller's house)
  • Jamestown Windmill (John M. Miller)

How appropriate that the shingled mill for grinding corn still survives between the fields of two Watson farms surviving from the late eighteenth century, those of Thomas Watson and Borden Watson (see entries below). This, the third windmill to be built on Jamestown, survives as the only colonial windmill in the state. Together with two others in Rhode Island, both from the early nineteenth century (one in Middletown and one in Portsmouth), it is a reminder that wind power, especially for grinding grain, commonly substituted for waterpower into the early nineteenth century on the bay islands, where streams are tiny and breezes are abundant. The mill stands behind the much altered and rebuilt miller's house. Eleven millers successively lived here through 109 years of operation, until 1896. The three-story, 30-foot octagonal and tapered mill tower rises from a barely visible rubblestone foundation supported by hand-hewn, diagonally braced oak timber framing. Its domical (or bonnet) cap, now fixed, once turned on a track, so as to face its 25-foot latticed arms (with attached canvas sails when operating) into the shifting wind. Grain from the second-floor storage area reached the 5.5-foot granite grinding stones below by chute. This mill and its half-acre site were once part of farms belonging to Colonel Joseph Wanton, a Newport Tory. His property, like that of many Tories in the vicinity, was auctioned to American patriots after the Revolution.

After it went out of use in 1896, the windmill decayed rapidly. A group of concerned citizens, which undertook restoration in 1904, turned it over to the Jamestown Historical Society in 1912. It has been repaired several times, but especially after the 1954 hurricane, when, among other work, new white oak timbers had to be installed to strengthen the tower, and the arms were completely replaced.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Jamestown Windmill", [Jamestown, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 589-590.

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