For those who crisscross the Hamptons daily on Route 27, when they think of Water Mill they think of the James Corwith Grist Mill on the Green as a landmark. Amazingly this windmill was built in 1800 in Sag Harbor but moved by Corwith in 1814 to its present location. Corwith and his family actively ran the mill until 1887 and Corwith, along with a few generations of his family, is actually buried in the graveyard just behind the mill. When driving the mill is definably a marker on your drive. It is a site decorated around Christmas time, and quite frankly it is a rather distinguished authentic historical landmark of the Hamptons all year-round. To think it was built as Thomas Jefferson had just become President is mind-blowing to me. The actual famous watermill of which the hamlet gets its name from is located on the North side of 27 and is worthy of a visit when open and running.
However, there is more to Water Mill than the old watermill and windmill. Many do not know about the very old and historic family properties that are located south of Route 27 out to Mecox Bay. Families like the Halseys have been living full-time back there since the late 1640’s. With a population around 1,600 full-time folks, we are talking about a small community. The story is in 1644, England gave Edward Howell 40 acres near the settlement of Southampton to build a mill for the settlers to grind their grain into meal. Back in the day, people referred to original settlements as either the ones east or west of the water mills. Eventually the town was just called Water Mill.
If you have never ridden your bike through the backroads of Water Mill, you are missing out on the purest part of Hamptons history. There are cattle, horses, barns, fields, active farms along with quaint historical structures that Norman Rockwell never did paint. There is an acoustic sound all its own back there. Of course there are the new mansions, the latest expressions of vast wealth that are popping up everywhere, especially along the strip of ocean beach, but that’s to be expected.
The people who live in Water Mill like to keep their piece of the Hamptons a quiet secret. They want to keep it as unspoiled as possible. Can you blame them? They have been happy living there for over 400 years.
I was at a party off of Mecox Bay for Hamptons.com in 2011 when I proposed marriage to my wife Cindi. Jackson Browne was the musical guest at the party and was performing as a favor to his significant other, a friend of the owner of the home. As I dropped to my knee and proposed, a rather distinguished man in blue jeans and his wife congratulated us. He introduced himself as David Rockefeller (Jr.) “I live nearby,” he said. Then music started and we all started to dance, he and his wife high-fived both Cindi and I as we danced. That’s my Water Mill story.
I was driving around the intimate lanes of Water Mill this last weekend to get the vibe for this column. I stopped and walked around. I could feel the history beneath my feat as I walked over the soil. I could hear the wind, feel the peacefulness and smell the nearby ocean. Some things and some places are just perfect that way.