“There are two places in the Finger Lakes I always visit with out-of-town guests,” exclaims Debbie Hilton of Pulteney. “Wineries and The Windmill.”
More than a century has passed since a timeworn barn served as a relay station along the Penn Yan-Dundee Road. The barn is long gone, and the open piece of ground where wagoners once watered and changed their horses is now home to The Windmill Farm & Craft Market, a sprawling enterprise in the rolling hills along State Route 14A. “I make regular trips to The Windmill. It’s a pleasant, friendly and relaxing country experience – fun for kids, adults, everyone,” Debbie continues enthusiastically.
Folks who knew Bill Gunderman, the driving force behind the market, still allude to “Bill’s Dream” whenever The Windmill is mentioned. In 1978, Gunderman and his wife Ruth paid a visit to the decades-old Green Dragon farm market in Pennsylvania and were soon convinced that Yates County could be the perfect home for a similar undertaking.
A mix of interested local people, including Amish and Mennonite farmers and craftspeople, assembled to discuss the matter and soon agreed that such a market could – and should – become a reality. A cooperative was established, a plot of land was purchased, and on June 27, 1987, The Windmill opened for business with 64 exuberant vendors and its first crowd of eager shoppers.
From those somewhat humble beginnings, The Windmill has grown steadily. In just over 20 years it has become a complex of multiple sheds and buildings, a complete “Street of Shops” with picnic areas and more than 200 vendors. Open only on Saturdays from April until just before Christmas, with a few selected holidays thrown in, the Windmill’s grounds host as many as 10,000 visitors on a given day. Parking and admission are always free.
Many of the merchants go way back, but many newcomers can also be found. For example, the Stoltzfus family has provided a wide range of homemade pies, sticky buns, cookies, apple dumplings and breads almost since The Windmill’s inception. One taste will tell you why. In only her second year at The Windmill, LeeAnn Aubin loves the atmosphere. Her business, “Knot So Board,” creates hand-painted signage for homes and businesses. “So many things are special here – crafted by hand and unique,” she says. “Our signs are cut from slab wood, washed, and sanded. Then comes the artwork and a protective coat.”
A person really can experience “one-stop shopping” at The Windmill – snacks, a bottle of wine, clothing, glassware, fresh flowers and produce, fabrics, spice rubs, antiques, specialty foods, wrought iron pie stackers, folk art and furniture, bejeweled Finger Lakes blossoms, an atlas for any state in the union. All are available, and that’s only the beginning.
You can visit an on site chiropractor, get your shoes re-stitched, have a saw blade sharpened, and pick up a bottle of emu oil. Yes, emu oil, “a penetrating anti-bacterial product for skin enhancement, moisturizing, and healing,” says Janet Young, a Windmill vendor for a dozen years. Janet states with confidence, “I know emus inside and out.” She should. She’s raised the large, gawky birds for more than 40 years on her farm in Arkport.
Emus are not the only unusual creatures represented at The Windmill. Leslie and Jeff Jorritsma raise and shear alpacas, then create distinctive products from the fiber. Leslie’s mom, Sandy Strong, who helps with the family business, says Leslie’s five daughters and 55 alpacas keep her and Jeff pretty busy at their Autumn Mist Alpaca & Fiber Mill in nearby Prattsburgh. Sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves and baby items are among the articles they have available.
The Windmill saga really began when Sherry and Tom Morse bought a 96-acre parcel of land in the early ’80s. “We bought it because Tom likes to hunt,” says the outgoing Sherry who grew up on Long Island. They soon sold 26 acres of it to the Windmill cooperative and the Morses built a home on their remaining 70 acres where Tom still hunts. Meanwhile, Sherry’s business Pantry Pleasures offers dozens of coffees, teas and spices. It has become a staple of the market “and is just a short walk from my front door,” she says with a grin.
One busy shopper told me The Windmill to her is “a mecca for gift hunters.” It is an opinion apparently shared by others, including the Everett family from the Binghamton area. They travel through about twice a year to visit friends in Buffalo, traditionally stopping by the market to pick up a special gift for their hosts. This time, they were leaving with a set of wine glasses hand painted by Beverly Miller of Elmira to be arranged in a basket from D & L Wicker with several bottles of Finger Lake wine. “Since tastings are available, we’re choosing each bottle from a different display,” Bob Everett added. “Why buy from just one winery when you can stretch the enjoyment by sampling from several?”
The Windmill is first and foremost about shopping, but eating runs a close second. Vendors and early arrivals can find hot coffee and pastries or enjoy a full home-cooked breakfast. Picnic tables are scattered everywhere and fill up quickly at lunchtime with people devouring everything from Phinn’s hot dogs smothered with mustard, relish, and onions to deep-fried, ribbon cut Gramma’s Butterflyed Potatoes. Beth Whipple’s potato creations (with toppings such as nacho cheese, sour cream, and salsa) passed with flying colors, said Charles and Blanche Sones of Ontario, after trying one for the first time.
There’s something for every taste at The Windmill – kielbasa with sauerkraut, calzones, shrimp and clams, chicken, ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, spaghetti and salads. And to snack on as you stroll the grounds (or to munch on the way home after a hard day’s shopping) there’s candy, pretzels, cheese and crackers, caramel corn, fresh roasted peanuts, frozen custard, kettle corn and homemade fudge.
In addition to shopping and food, The Windmill provides live music and buggy rides, and features special events, like the spring and fall Custom & Classic Car Shows. Market offerings change from month to month and year to year. New vendors and products are often added, each carefully juried by The Windmill’s membership committee. “While no one has a product exclusive,” says co-op secretary Juanita Dombroski, “we try to emphasize a wide variety of goods and avoid excessive repetition. The membership committee also enforces rules and regulations to keep standards and quality high.”
Regulars have their own reasons for visiting The Windmill again and again, and for restocking their favorite items of all sorts. Judy and Dick Morey of Lyons stop by three or four times a year. “I always look at the handmade wooden crafts, printed T-shirts, flags, outdoor furniture, house wares, and seasonal produce,” said Judy.
Dick thought for a second about what brings him back. Then, a smile crossed his face, and he said, “Pretzels. Lots of warm, soft, flavored pretzels.”
For information about The Windmill Farm & Craft Market, check their website at www.thewindmill.com
by James P. Hughes