On November 9th noted historian and historic preservationist William “Billy” McMillen of Glenmont, New York, passed away quietly at home at the age of 81. Born on Staten Island, McMillen lived there his entire life until retiring to Glenmont in 2003.
His work at Historic Richmond Town, a site his father helped to found, began in 1963 and he became Supervisor of Restoration in 1967, serving in that position until his retirement. A master of many trades, he was best known as a tinsmith who helped train many tinsmiths across the country. The first building he helped to restore was Historic Richmond Town’s ca. 1740 Guyon-Lake-Tysen house. Beginning in 1975 he joined Don Carpentier in moving and restoring buildings at New York’s Eastfield Village in East Nassau, Rensselaer County, NY.
The first Eastfield building he worked on was an outhouse, but the first large building he helped move was the 1836 First Universalist Church from Duanesburg, Schenectady County, NY. He completed an architectural rendering of the meetinghouse framing so it could be disassembled for transport, and also developed the numbering plan for each piece of the frame so it could be reassembled.
He taught his first workshop at Eastfield in 1977 and taught at least 154 classes there by himself or with others. He also served on the Historic Eastfield Foundation board since 1990. He was still helping restore Eastfield’s buildings the week before he died.
Over the years, he also acquired an exemplary collection of American material culture, tools, and firearms. His knowledge was critical to the establishment of the tin shop at Colonial Williamsburg, where he donated many of the tools used in the shop.
McMillen and his wife, Judy, who passed away last year, were supporters and donors of the Early American Industries Association (Judy served as the organization’s first woman President). They were also long time members of the Brigade of the American Revolution and supporters of the Midwest Association and the Dutch Barn Preservation Society.
He is also preceded in death by his parents Loring and Eleanor. He is survived by his brother Harlow, sister Mary, daughter Sally Spinosa, sons John McMillen (Germaine) and Chris Tintle (Liz) and several grandchildren.
Photos, from above: Billy McMillen (courtesy Historic Richmond Town); and a 1990s wetplate image of Don Carpentier, left, and Billy McMillen posing with the tools of the tinsmith’s trade outside Eastfield’s tin shop, where McMillen learned the trade (courtesy Eastfield Foundation).