A Landmark on the Cape for Over Three Centuries
The Eastham Windmill embodies the fascinating history of Cape Cod, a relic from centuries ago and a treasured part of the scenery in Eastham, one of the four original settlements on the Cape. How the windmill came to reside in its current location is quite a story, as 17th-century mill builder Thomas Paine constructed it in Plymouth in 1680, then the windmill traveled impressively over water on a raft to Truro in the 1770s. Soon after, the windmill found a new home in 1793 near the current-day Salt Pond Visitor Center – a must-visit stop during your stay on the Cape, as it is the “gateway” to the Cape Cod National Seashore – and moved to its present location in 1808.
Although there are a few other windmills along the Cape Cod coastline, Eastham’s is the largest and oldest, reflected in its status on the National Register of Historic Places. Like the nearby red-and-white-striped iconic lighthouse, Nauset Light, Eastham Windmill is free to visit and operated by a local historical preservation society.
© 2017, P. Burian
Grist Mills – An Ancient Method, Still in Use Today
With its wood-shingled exterior, slowly spinning windmill blades, pointed roof, and bright red door, Eastham’s windmill is one of the more picturesque sights along the Cape. It’s undoubtedly charming from the outside, but when you step inside, another layer of history shows itself as you get an up-close look at the inner workings of the grist mill – a traditional method of using large circular stones to grind corn and wheat.
As the persistent sea breeze blows off the Atlantic Ocean and carries through Eastham, it turns the windmill blades. This motion spins the “runner” stone on top of the “bed” stone inside the windmill structure, pressing the grain in grooves in the enormous stone plates, resulting in fine flour.
Throughout the early centuries of America’s settlement, grist mills – many powered by flowing water, but others by wind, like in Eastham – were the primary way of transforming massive amounts of corn and wheat into flour. Mills of various sizes dotted the vast American landscape, from the coastal mills throughout Cape Cod to the Dutch windmills of the midwestern plains.
Plan Your Visit – An Easy Day Trip, The Perfect Picnic, and Special Events at the Eastham Windmill
The Eastham windmill offers a rare opportunity to see a still-functioning grist mill, a glimpse back into another time. But in addition, it is in a lovely setting, ideal for picnicking and enjoying the small-town quaintness of Eastham. It’s a quick day trip from P-Town, as it’s only 23 miles from the friendliest year-round hotel in Provincetown, and even better – combine your afternoon in Eastham with a scenic drive along the Cape.
The windmill is free and open to visitors from early July until Labor Day, generally 9 am – 1 pm. Before your visit, check the Eastham city website for updated info as the summer season approaches. Although the windmill isn’t open during the other ten months of the year, you can still relax on the lawn, watch the blades spin, and get photos of the beautiful windmill in action.
Two yearly events put the Eastham windmill in the spotlight, so be sure to plan a drive to Eastham during these weekends. The 22nd annual Hands on the Arts Festival takes place in 2023 on June 24th and 25th, with arts and crafts booths, live music, and fun for the whole family. And at the tail end of summer, on the weekend after Labor Day, “Windmill Weekend” brings three days of non-stop festivities, including arts vendors, a cookout, eclectic live music, parades, and a road race.