FAMILY KEEPS A BIRDS-EYE VIEW ON THE PAST

windmill4The windmill, a Rumson landmark, outside the home at 37 Ward Avenue. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

By now, the Taylor family is used to random knocks on the door and gawkers in the front yard.

After all, there’s this four-story thing jutting out of the Taylors’ lawn that gets passersby wondering: what is that?

“Everybody knows it as a Rumson landmark,” said the home’s owner, Kathryn Taylor. But not many people actually know for sure. “We always have these kids knocking on our door asking, what is that? People always stop and take pictures. We’ve lived here (in Rumson) for 23 years, and people are still asking us about it.”

These days it’s a place for small — and very intimate — cocktail parties and a hangout for Taylor’s children that beats just about any tree house around.

And it happens to be one of the last vestiges of Rumson’s past that hasn’t fallen to development and progress in technology.

windmill11A view from the top, looking east toward the Atlantic. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

Built in 1888 by the A.J. Corcoran Windmill Company, out of Jersey City, the approximately 40-foot-tall windmill once supplied power to pump water to what is now 37 Ward, which had been a riverfront estate but has since been subdivided into three lots.

When electric power replaced wind power in the 1930s, the windmills of Rumson — and there were plenty, with all the sprawling estates — started being torn down.

Local historian Randall Gabrielan, who wrote a page about the windmill in the first volume of his Rumson: Images of America book, said the last time he checked, a couple years ago, there were only two left in town: the one in front of the Taylors’ home and another on Oakes Road.

“It is important because these structures once dotted the landscape and now are nearly gone,” Gabrielan said in an email. “Thus, they are a reminder of a past era.”

Taylor and her husband Chal chose instead to maintain a piece of history rather than reduce it to a pile of brick and wood when they moved into the home in 1996.

The family poured thousands into restoring the structure over six months in 1999, installing four floors, steel ship ladders and rehabilitating the integrity of the windmill, which had gone neglected for decades, Taylor said. They nicknamed the windmill “the Owl’s Nest” after finding a family of owls living quite comfortably inside, Taylor said.

“It was like an old barn, and it was filled with barn owls and pigeons,” she said, “and there was probably twelve inches, maybe more, of just dung. It smelled like a zoo.”

The family installed new cedar shake on the sides and maintained the original beams of the windmill, and in 2001 won the Monmouth County Historical Association award for restoration.

The structure has become part of their home and part of the family: all five girls have played cards or had sleepovers in it, and each Christmas Eve, the Taylors hold a cocktail party on the top floor. There’s no chance of it coming down while they’re living there, Taylor said.

In a town where pieces of history fade from age and give way to development, it’s all the more important to maintain as much of the past as possible, she said.

“You can level things and build a state-of-the-art, brand new home,” Taylor said, “but nothing is like this.”