Built in 1787 and in operation until 1896, the old Jamestown windmill stands high on Windmill Hill in the center of the island. It is a three-story octagonal structure with a domed cap or bonnet. The bonnet holds the sails and can turn to capture the wind from any direction.
The original framework of the mill is made of hand-hewn chestnut timbers. The exterior is sheathed in cedar shingles. The mill is maintained in working condition, and major renovations to repair damage from weather and insects were completed in 2000-2001. A booklet, The Jamestown Windmill, available by download or in pamphlet form, describes the operation and history of the mill.
Windmill Day is usually held every odd numbered year. On Windmill Day, the cloths are raised on the sails, and the bonnet is turned so that the sails catch the breeze. We are skipping 2021 because the windshaft is being replaced and the sails are being repaired.
Did you miss seeing the windmill sails turn during past Windmill Days? You can watch our video here —
Despite the ongoing repairs, the windmill will be open from 1 pm to 4 pm every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and holiday from June 25 to October 11, 2021 or by appointment. The windmill may be closed during inclement weather. Some restrictions may apply, depending on CDC Covid pandemic advisories.
Visitors can climb to the bonnet to see the gears that translate the force of the wind to the power to turn the mill stones. Signage and displays funded by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities explain the history and the technology of the mill.
Teachers are invited to bring their students to the mill for tours. Lesson plans for middle school students are available.
Browse through time
Jamestown Builds a Windmill
The freemen of Jamestown ask the Rhode Island General Assembly to give the town one-half acre of a farm that has been confiscated from a Tory as the site for a new mill. The request is granted on the condition that the town “erect and keep in repair a good wind-mill for grinding grain.” The windmill is built at once.
Windmill Ceases Operation
The Jamestown miller can no longer compete with the rolling mills in the west, which produce cheaper meal and flour by crushing the corn kernels between large steel rollers. He closes the mill.
Jamestowners Save the Mill
A group of Jamestowners interested in saving the windmill from destruction form the Jamestown Windmill Association. They raise money to buy the mill. They repair the worst damage from eight years of neglect.
Jamestown Historical Society Founded
The Jamestown Historical Society is incorporated to take legal custody of the Jamestown Windmill. The society has maintained the mill ever since.