Sunday, July 3, 2016
Pella, Iowa Dutch Windmill
Authentic Dutch Windmill Pella, Iowa
Vermeer Windmill Pella, Iowa
In our travels, we always are interested in learning about changes that have improved our world. A recent trip to Iowa allowed us a chance to marvel at the evolution of Dutch windmills.
We spent three years in Europe while Wayne was teaching for the U.S. Air Force, including six months in Holland. In our little Dutch village, we became aware of the importance of the windmill as a power source that had been the foundation for creating more land to live on and the basis of many industries.
Before windmills were invented, villages in Holland often were destroyed by ravaging floods. In the 1400s, the development of windmills allowed them to pump numerous wetlands dry and then put the water behind dikes.
In the 16th century, adjustments to the structure of windmills made it possible to use them for several new purposes, including grinding grain, producing oil and paper and sawing timber.
That timber was used in building the ships that gave Holland a major role in trade during the 17th century. The Dutch at one point had 10,000 working windmills.
The Dutch are incredibly protective of their 1,000 remaining windmills. Once the basis for improving the country by creating more useful space, they became obsolete as other forms of power emerged.
They then became a symbol for the country. During World War II, German forces bombed many of the windmills because members of the Dutch resistance used the vanes as signaling devices. They also were prone to destruction from lightning strikes. The few mills that still turn are on the verge of losing power: As buildings around them have expanded upward, they can no longer catch the wind like they used to.
Residents of Pella, a Dutch community in Iowa that we recently visited, wanted to create a historic village that that had a windmill at its center. The problem? The Dutch government would not allow the ones remaining in Holland to be disassembled and moved elsewhere.
What to do? Harry Vermeer, who dreamed of building an authentic mill, helped raise money to hire a Dutch designer to create an 1850s-style grain mill that was built in Holland using the appropriate woods and moved to a base in Pella. Completed in 2002, the Vermeer mill now serves as the cornerstone for a historical village near the center of Pella.
Before touring the village, we were given a complete tour of the 124-foot-tall windmill, the largest working mill in North America. The sails were turning when we entered, which surprised us because there was only a light wind and the canvas had not been spread.
The miller lived on the second of the structure’s five floors. Millers needed to be available to make sure the sails were turned into the wind. The quarters have been recreated to be as close to the original as possible, but a Dutch visitor noted they were a bit larger than a Dutch miller might have been accustomed to.
A set of doors near a small area with a bed were designed to keep the heat in. The bed was quite short, and our guide explained that people in the 1850s believed it was not healthy to sleep lying flat. Instead, they used pillows to prop themselves up into a sitting position.
On the fifth floor, we were able to see how the 3,500-pound grindstones worked and how the millers controlled the direction of the sails. Our guide said 16 different types of wood had been used to build the mill. It only grinds Minnesota wheat now, and a local bakery uses the flour for its wheat bread.
After the visit, we could not resist stopping at the bakery to buy a loaf of wheat bread and a basket full of great Dutch pastries.