“This is a very exciting day.”
So said Howard Kroplick, co-president of the Roslyn Landmark Society, as he welcomed guests and dignitaries to a day celebrating the conclusion of Phase I of the Roslyn Grist Mill Restoration Project.
They marked the achievement of all cribbing and steel support beams being, as the Mill was lowered onto its new foundation, supported by its restored historic timber frame.
The Grist Mill, originally known as the Robeson-Williams Mill, is the oldest commercial structure in the Village of Roslyn. The day also was an occasion to reflect on the village’s enduring past and how it may serve as a guidepost to the future.
Among those speaking was County Executive Bruce Blakeman, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, Roslyn Mayor John Durkin, and Town Councilman Peter Zuckerman.
Blakeman noted the successful partnership between government and private donations in securing the needed funds. That included a federal grant secured by Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi (D—NY), one gained in the congressman’s final weeks in office.
Blakeman also praised the mill as an important archaeological and historical site. As with other speakers, he referred to George Washington’s triumphant tour of Long Island following the end of The Revolutionary War, one that included a stop in Roslyn.
Nassau County is the owner of the Roslyn Grist Mill and Blakeman said the county will celebrate its continuing restoration in 2024 as part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the creation of Nassau County.
Durkin hailed the Grist Mill of standing with the Ellen E. Ward Clock Tower as the village’s two great representative structures.
The Grist Mill’s renovation, he added, would serve to “keep our village connected to the past and connected to the future.”
DeSena cited past town supervisors for their support, while DeRiggi-Whitton praised both Kroplick and his wife, Roz, as being the “heart and soul” of the restoration effort.
Another surprise was the announcement of a generous gift from a direct descendent of John Robinson who owned the original mill constructed between 1701 and 1709. According to the Hempstead Town Records, John Robinson was granted permission on April 2, 1698, to set up a grist mill on a stream at the head of the harbor (“ye streme att ye hed of the harboure”).
According to a Roslyn Landmark Society spokesman, a team of prominent historic preservation companies, using centuries-old wood frame restoration methods and historic structural techniques, have worked together to ensure the Roslyn Grist Mill (1715-1731), is properly seated and self-supporting on the new foundation.
The Grist Mill remains an enduring symbol of Long Island’s colonial past. Historians claim that it is one of the few surviving Dutch colonial commercial frame buildings in the U.S. In 1986, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
A grist mill has existed on the site since the first decade of the 18th century, when John Robinson built on it. He in turn sold it to Jeremiah Williams, whom historians believe to have built the current mill sometime between 1715 and 1741. After another owner, it became the property of Hendrick Onderdonk, who already operated two paper mills in the settlement then known as Hempstead Harbor, in 1758.
Onderdonk quickly became a legendary figure in Long Island history.
During the Revolutionary War, he performed espionage services for the Continental Army. After the war, in 1790, Washington visited the Onderdonk house to personally thank the man for his wartime service. In time, the Onderdonk house became the George Washington Manor, a popular Roslyn eatery that today operates under the Hendrick’s Tavern, an establishment that retains a “George Bar,” plus portraits of Washington and other legends from the Founding Era.
In 1801, the Onderdonk family sold the mill to Daniel Hoogland and Abraham Coles. The two, in turn, sold in 1849 to Joseph Hicks. Under the Hicks family, another legendary name in Long Island history, the mill enjoyed a long run, being operated as a functioning grist mill all the way until 1916.
That year, the Hicks family converted the mill into a tea house and museum. It was a smart move. The tea house, with its stunning view of Hempstead Harbor and its inviting family atmosphere, became a popular destination for young families across Long Island.
By 1975, however, the New York City area economy was in real decline. The Hicks family sold the structure to Nassau County. The building remained vacant, but that old Roslyn spirit of restoration and pride in its history, once again, has prevailed.
During a 2020 restoration project, a time capsule was found embedded in concrete that dated to an earlier restoration in 1917.
Workers discovered a half-pint milk bottle from the Alex Campbell Milk Co. Also inside were four coins, a Civil War Army & Navy token (Da.1863), an Indian head penny (Da.1881), a Haitian 20 centimes (Da.1863) and an Indian head penny (Da.1905). There were two letters, one in English and one in Italian by Romolo Caparelli, who was from Pico, Italy. That letter was translated and will be displayed at the mill when the restoration is complete.
The other letter, historians said, was from Steven Speedling, a Roslyn builder and descendant of a Hessian soldier who fought in the American Revolution. This missive described the life of the mill’s sturdy working crew.
—Information and photos from The Roslyn Landmark Society and Wikipedia.