Windmills and Dorchester County

Early History

Although machines utilizing wind date back to the simple machine of the Greek engineer Heron of Alexandria in the 1st century, the first known practical vertical mills were developed by the Persians as early as the 9th century and first appeared in England in the 12th Century (c. 1185), about the time of the Crusades. They were developed to grind grain into cereal and flour, probably replacing animal power for this task. They were common in the colonies by the mid-Seventeenth Century, particularly in Maryland and Virginia. Many of these early mills were post mills, and the Spocott Windmill is an example of these. In a post mill, the entire body of the mill is balanced on an upright post, allowing it to be rotated into the wind. The post is supported on 2 crosspieces, originally resting on the ground and only later supported by masonry posts to prevent rotting. A tailpole extends from the mill allowing one person to be able to rotate the entire building.

A post mill is limited in size by the need to rotate the entire body; later in time the smock mill was developed. In these a cap sits on top of the body, and only the cap is rotated, allowing a larger building and more substantial inner works. The cap would only contain the sails, windshaft, brake, and roof.

Windmills and Dorchester County

Early English settlers certainly brought post windmills to Dorchester County, and they were particularly utilized here because of the flatness of the land. Water mills were also common in Maryland, but the flat nature of Dorchester County made them virtually impossible in most of the county. At one time there were 18 known post windmills in Dorchester County, 4 of which were in the Neck District. The county was one of the last on the East Coast were windmills were operated commercially to grind grain. While the original Spocott windmill was destroyed by a blizzard in 1888. the last known Dorchester post mill was destroyed by hurricane early in the 20th Century.