Written by Robert Sargent Friday, 17 May 2013 00:00
I want to share our conversation with Nancy Rankin, the architect from the Albany-based firm of Waite, Inc., at our board meeting on April 22, concerning the restoration of the Roslyn Grist Mill. The distinguished Waite firm is responsible for historic restoration at the White House and Sagamore Hill.
Known formally as the Robeson-William Grist Mill, the mill is at the center of Roslyn Village on Old Northern Boulevard. It is an important example of Colonial American architecture. The attempt to save it led to the founding of the Roslyn Landmark Society.
Its date has been determined differently (1701, 1705 or 1715), but it is recognized as the only commercial building of Dutch origin known to exist in the United States today. To put that in context, it was approaching 100 years when President George Washington visited Roslyn in 1790.
The Roslyn Landmark Society, founded in 1961 by Roger and Peggy Gerry, regards the mill as Roslyn’s crown jewel, and feels a civic duty to restore it. In mid-1950s, the village sought to solve the downtown parking problem by filling and paving over the old millpond (called Silver Lake) vital to the Grist Mill. Saving the lake and the mill Dam was Roger Gerry’s first call to action, and it led eventually to the founding of the Landmark Society.
Nancy Rankin told us about earlier restoration efforts. Once it stopped operating as a mill in1888, the first restoration, in 1916-1918, was by Harold Godwin, the grandson of William Cullen Bryant. As we learned from the recent talk by Terry Hunt on Cedarmere, Godwin’s response to a fire at Cedarmere was to use stucco and cement to fireproof the mill. Unfortunately, the weight of these materials damaged the wooden structure and introduced a non-historical element.
The restoration, since 2009, has been proceeding slowly. Nancy told us that this was for two reasons. The building is extremely old and very important; it has to be done right. Fortunately, most of the wooden structure, the original pegged beams from the early 18th century, are in fairly good shape. The architect’s decision is that the best and most authentic way to preserve the mill is to remove the non-historical materials from the Godwin era and to raise it four feet to street level, as originally, and do the work at the site rather dismantling it.
Money is an issue in projects of this complexity and magnitude. The mill has been owned Nassau County since 1976, and the county has committed about $2.1 million to its restoration. The Gerry Charitable Trust has pledged $500,000. Since the county has ownership and much at stake, it retains control of the restoration process.
The construction drawings are complete. The Landmark Society can be, at this time, a gentle agent seeing that the project picks up speed, and making sure the quality of the craftsmanship in a building, important in Roslyn’s history and the United States. We hope our members will join us in this important endeavor.