I’ve never seen anything like it. The Prairie Mills Windmill in Golden, Illinois looks like picture out of a Dutch countryside. The beautiful windmill with huge “sails” that turn the grist mill make a lovely sight on the Illinois Prairie landscape!
The Prairie Mills windmill is a Dutch smock windmill. It is the only US-built windmill operating with its original millstones and wood mechanism in downstate Illinois. I knew about this windmill for years. Late one day in late May, timing was perfect and Keith and I were in the area. We called and the phone number to set up a tour. The windmill opens after Memorial Day and we were a little ahead of that, but we reached Roger Flesner. He said he would come and open up for us.
Roger is not just a volunteer and tour guide for the windmill and museum. He also happens to be the Mayor of Golden! Roger drove up in his pick up truck and gave us a great tour. He also shared a bit of local history as well. I told him I write for Farm World and there will be a detailed story of the history of the windmill coming up in my column Wrenching Tales.
The story of the Prairie Mills Windmill is fascinating. The windmill that now stands is actually the third and final windmill that Hinrich Reemts (“H. R.”) Emminga built. He was born in Germany and came to the US and built what Roger referred to a one stone, or Custom windmill in 1854. The mill was located about 1.5 miles northeast of Golden. He operated the mill for nine years, then sold it and returned to Germany.
While in Germany, he then constructed a 2nd windmill much like the Prairie Mills windmill we toured in Golden. Roger said that this windmill is actually still standing! In 1872 the Emminga family returned to the US and built a three stone windmill. They chose the area because, “The land here was like the land in Germany,” Roger said.
Construction of the mill began on August 11, 1872 and was completed by August 1873 with two sets of millstones. Milling operations began on September 1, 1873, with the third set of millstones was added in August of 1874. “The trees to build this are all from this area. The gears are made from hard maple. The stones are volcanic from France,” Roger added saying that when the 5,000 lb each stones were hauled from Quincy after coming up the Mississippi, they traveled by ox cart.
As for the mill, Roger added, “There are no nails in the mill, it is all just pegged.”
My Favorite Part!
The Emminga family operated the mill successfully passing it down from father to son to grandson. The mill is amazing to walk through. My very favorite part was that you can actually walk out and see the huge “sails”. You can also go inside the mill and see the huge grist stones.
The Prairie Mills windmill continued to operate until 1924 after a storm tore off two of the four sails. Then it was modified l to operate using a 30-horsepower gasoline engine. Milling continued under gasoline power until approximately 1930 when all operations ceased. Interestingly after that, the windmill then had several owners who used the mill as a supper club, home, and tavern. The doors closed for good in the early 1980’s. The mill quickly deteriorated.
Roger said when there was word that someone from out of town was going to buy the Prairie Mills windmill. Town folks got together in 1986, put up a deposit to buy the mill. They formed the Golden Historical Society with the plan to purchase and restore the mill. The restoration was a major job requiring professional assistance. In 2002, the society successfully ground grain at the Prairie Mills windmill for the first time since its restoration. Inside you can see the mill and also a bit of Golden history as well.
Tours of the Prairie Mills Windmill and museum are available from May through October on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm. Tours are also available by appointment or by chance. They need advance notice for large groups and it is advisable to call ahead since this is staffed on a strictly volunteer basis. Log onto http://www.goldenwindmill.org/ for details.