Located on the North Fork in the historic village of Greenport is one of Long Island’s oldest continuing family run businesses that serves the marine industry. It was here in 1880 that William J Mills, a transplanted Scotsman, established Wm. J Mills and Co. He did this because of the need of a master sail maker to take care of the fleet of whaling, fishing and oyster boats located in Greenport.
In the early 1900’s, Mr. Mills saw how the boats he serviced were changing from sail to power. As a result he diversified his company by producing awnings and canvas for boats, homes and businesses. He continued to maintain his sail making for the numerous sailing yachts in the region as well as manufacturing sail stabilizers for the early power boats. It should be noted that many of the company’s old sail making drawings were donated to the Mystic Seaport Museum. The company also helped in 1931 restoration of the sails on the U.S.S. Constitution, America’s oldest navy ship located in Boston.
The company is now proud to be in their fifth generation of master sail makers with William J Mills III (Jamie) as President and head of the awning division. Robert L. Mills II (Bob) is Vice President and oversees the custom canvas and bag division. They took over the company from their father William J. Mills II (Bill) in 1980. A new generation of leadership is in the wings with Bob’s son Robert L. Mills III (Rob) joining the company in 2017 after working five years in New York City.
The success of passing on the reins according to Bob was that “each generation worked for many years, learning the ins and outs of the business, before eventually purchasing the business from their predecessor. Although, the previous generation never fully left, Bill Mills continued fixing sewing machines, designing fabrication equipment and other tasks until he was 95 years old! “
To stay competitive since 1880 Wm. J Mills & Co. do all their work in house. On my visit to their shop I saw the largest computerized fabric cutting table on Long Island, the largest sail loft on Eastern Long Island, and a fully equipped machine shop with custom-designed fabricating equipment. Here they are using modern digital patterning techniques and tools to ensure the best fit for all of their custom canvas products. Sails and canvases for both power and sail boats are designed, produced and repaired in their 15,000 square foot shop using computerized stitching machines. They employee during boating season 23 people and run seven trucks for delivery.
Products for Boaters
Wm. J. Mills & Co. offer a range of products for boaters. Their canvas department produces canvas to cover entire boats as well as exposed exteriors like seats, engines and exterior cockpits. These can be custom made to snap in where needed. They also do dodgers, Bimini and full tops.
Sail making is an important part of their business. They provide sail and rigging maintenance as well as fabrication on a made-to-order basis. If it has to do with a sail, they can provide it.
When visiting the showroom in Greenport, you will find over two dozen canvas and sail bags displayed for different sizes and needs. These are high quality and very durable. If you bring them a good condition old sail, they may barter you one bag free for the rest of the material to be used by them.
With an agreement made with Boston Whaler over 40 years ago, an important part of Mills business came to be. Presently they have a data base for over 5000 unique canvas designs for the many boats Boston Whaler manufactures. These can be produced fast and ordered from a dealer or direct.
From personal experience I give Wm. J Mills & Co. an A+ when taking care of my canvas needs. I came across them by storm, literally, when we were docked in Greenport and a sudden microburst ripped through the village in the afternoon. Rushing back to the dock I found my Bimini top shredded. An online search on canvas companies found Mills to be the closest company and when I called near their closing time they they sent someone to the dock to pick my top.
The repair was rushed through the next morning and delivered at 10AM so we can make weigh to Montauk. We were pleased there was no surcharge or “gotcha ya” money as I call it. We also noticed the stitching stronger than when it was sent over. Because of this encounter ten years ago we make an annual fall trip to the North Folk to visit wineries and farm stands while dropping off our canvases for our 46’ Princess. We have it returned via UPS before the boating season starts for about $50. For information on the company go to https://millscanvas.com/