Restoring history at the Roslyn Grist Mill

The Island Now

By Brandon Mariana Special to the Roslyn Times

For over three hundred years, residents and visitors to the Village of Roslyn have seen the weathered Roslyn Grist Mill building standing placidly at the head of Hempstead Harbor. Just as the mill once ground grain into flour, you can be forgiven for thinking that the passing centuries have ground the sagging building into a relic of Roslyn’s ancient past.

But beneath the weathered roof and sagging support beams rests a piece of vital history to both Roslyn and America, one that the Roslyn Landmark Society is working to restore back to its original footprint.

First built around 1715, the Roslyn Grist Mill served as the economic powerhouse of Hempstead Harbor community for over 150 years.

While the value of a single mill may be hard to imagine from a modern post-industrialization perspective, the mill was important enough to be mentioned by President George Washington in his diary following an April 1790 visit with the grist mill’s Roslyn owner.

As technological advancements phased the mill out of use, civic leaders began to appreciate the history of the old building, leading to its conversion into a local museum in 1917.

The lower level was converted into the Roslyn Mill Tea House in 1920, drawing in tourists for 54 years before closing. In 1986 the mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, formally declaring the building an important piece of American history. But time has taken its toll on the mill, leaving it in dire need of repair.

With a passion for restoration and a heart for history, the Roslyn Landmark Society has turned years of restoration plans into action, beginning in 2018 and featuring the raising of the Roslyn Grist Mill, which was needed to build its future foundation. The fascinating spectacle took place on January 23, 2020.

Engineers had to raise the building inches at a time slowly and carefully. After hours of work, the assembled crowd saw the mill raised eight feet, bringing the old building into the present both literally and metaphorically.

The restoration is estimated to take another three years, after which the mill will be converted into an educational center teaching about Roslyn and Long Island industrial history. As one of the few surviving Dutch-framed watermills in America, the Roslyn Grist Mill has become a unique and irreplaceable piece of United States history. Once it is restored, it will likely become the heart of Roslyn tourism.

The lifeblood of this project is its funding. Between 2015 and 2020, Roslyn raised over $3 million for the grist mill restoration from New York State and Nassau County grants, awards from the Gerry Charitable Trust and the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, and donations and sponsorships from members of the Roslyn Landmark Society.

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, construction resumed in August 2020 and fundraising efforts continue. A new 2020 Roslyn Grist Mill Match Challenge has recently been announced with a target goal of raising at least an additional $100,000.

All new Roslyn Landmark Society membership fees, renewals, and contributions will be allocated to the project with a 100 percent match from the Gerry Charitable Trust and Howard and Roz Kroplick. For more information, visit the new website.

If the earliest citizens of Roslyn knew that their old grist mill would still be standing over three centuries later, they would be quite surprised. The fact that it not only stands today but will stand stronger than it has in decades is a testament to a community dedicated to preserving both the history of its village and the history of our nation.

The Roslyn Grist Mill weathered the centuries, supporting the community as an economic heart until its walls sagged and its foundation decayed. And now the Roslyn community has become its support, lifting it back up and restoring its former beauty, returning life to the lovely old mill that had once brought life to all of Roslyn.


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