Inside the Redone Gristmill

Ricky Muller refashioned and stabilized the Water Mill Museum’s water wheel behind him. As he’ll be the first to tell you, it isn’t original to the 1640s building, but it looks nice. Baylis Greene

In case you didn’t know it, there’s a fully functional structure in Water Mill that dates to about 130 years before the nation was founded. It’s the one on Mill Pond with the gently spinning wheel off one wall, catching water from babbling Mill Creek to power aged gears.

Step inside and the wood turning and straining in support of a rotating grindstone is as noisy as a whaling ship in a gale-force blow. And standing amid the symphony of creaks over the weekend was one Ricky Muller, the master carpenter who has been tending to the untold board feet of rough-hewn wood for the better part of 17 years. 

He just finished up his latest project at the Water Mill Museum, a restoration of the wall facing the sidewalk that runs along Old Mill Road. Walking over to a long tiller-like lever sticking out of the floor, he dropped the gate to stop the flow of water into the mill so he could talk. It’s something he does regularly when he’s at work simply so he can think.

“That sidewalk wall was a total redo,” he said. “We moved displays, numbered boards, took pictures, uncovered the entire inside, and took off the shingles and sheathing outside. Then you’re able to see the damage and replace what you need to.” 

He mapped out the wall, sketched it, and determined what was original, something he’s done over the years for the building’s other three walls, too. “There’s never really been a restoration here, just repairs,” he said.

“We find white oak trees that are the right dimensions.” At the top of the wall, and elsewhere in the mill, bark is visible on the logs used, and the edges are rounded. “Back then they went and got a tree just big enough to accomplish the job,” no wasted wood. Knee braces supporting the main timbers will follow the shape of the source wood’s branch, for example. “That work is done by hand. I’ll finish it off with a chisel just like they did back then.”

That “we” he mentioned earlier refers to a couple of Water Mill carpenters who have helped him on the project, Ed Hurley and Ray Sachtleben. Mr. Muller, who lives in East Hampton now, is a son of the hamlet, and the son, literally, of one of its most prominent citizens, Arthur Muller, now 96, who was the postmaster from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s. Not only was the post office once in that very building, upstairs is a display devoted to its history.

And downstairs, an exhibition titled “If These Walls Could Talk,” detailing Mr. Muller’s restoration work, will open this weekend along with the museum’s season. This year’s members art show will also be on view, with a reception set for June 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission is by donation.