Originally built in Orleans in 1800, the Old East Mill is a “smock” mill, so named for its dress-like shape. It was a Flemish design commonly used in England. Mills, both water and wind powered, revolutionized 19th-century life for Cape Codders, creating industrious growth in salt-making and agriculture. This mill spent its first 70 years grinding wheat, corn, rye, barley and salt for local use and trade. By the late 19th century, cheaper flour imported from the Midwest forced many Cape Cod mills, including this one, into retirement.
For its next 100 years, subsequent owners worked hard to preserve the mill’s original machinery, stones and wooden structure. In the late 1960s, J.K. Lilly III, founder of Heritage Museums & Gardens, purchased the mill for the museum. To make the 32-mile trip from Orleans to Sandwich, the mill was cut into four sections and traveled down Route 6A by truck and trailer. The trip took 10 days, as the crew had to stop to raise every power line out of the way.
Over its 200-plus years, the Old East Mill has survived storm damage, insect infestations and the wear and tear of time. Today, it is showing its age. Heritage Museums & Gardens is working to raise funds to construct four new vanes.
Amanda Wastrom is assistant curator at Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich.