Long before electric cooperatives began stringing silver strands of singing wire across rural America in the 1930s, the rhythmic chatter of windmills performed many of the tasks needed to make America grow. Every farm, ranch and railroad stop had those mechanical marvels of wood and steel blades and fins to pump water and do other tasks that made the land workable.
In the heart of the Midwest, from where so many of the windmills were manufactured, the Mid-America Windmill Museum in Kendallville tells this story of wind power. The museum opens for the season April 1.
Having celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, the museum is still dedicated to collecting, preserving and publicly displaying these clean-energy machines of the past. Through video presentations, guided tours, exhibits, interactive displays, and photographs, the museum tells the whole history of wind power: from 4,000 years ago to the sprawling wind farms generating electricity today.
A total of 53 windmills of varying shapes and sizes have been restored and are on exhibit across several acres of land. Most are mounted on down-sized towers and are free to spin in the wind as designed. Others are protected against the elements in an 1889 bank barn that houses most of the museum. The barn was moved from its original location eight miles away in Avilla by Amish craftsmen in 1994.
Along with the American windmills, a highlight of the museum is its replica of the Robertson Post windmill, an enclosed single-stone grist mill with a 52-foot diameter wind wheel. The original Robertson, the first windmill built in the American colonies, was shipped from England and erected on the James River near Jamestown, Virginia, in the 1620s.
The museum, on the southeast edge of Kendallville, also features 11 Flint & Walling models of windmills beginning with its original “Star,” patented in the 1870s. Flint & Walling was established in Kendallville in 1866 and manufactured windmills until 1954. Still in Kendallville, Flint & Walling today manufactures high-performance water pumps and systems. The company celebrated part of its 150th anniversary in 2016 on the museum grounds beneath some of its original products.
While rural electrification brought an end to the heyday of the American windmill, World War II brought an end to many of the windmills themselves — as farmers turned the antiquated relics in for scrap metal to aid the war effort. But thanks to museums like the Mid-America Windmill Museum, this passing but important part of American history is being preserved.
If you go …
Mid-America Windmill Museum
732 S. Allen Chapel Road
Kendallville, Indiana 46755
Upcoming event: Go fly a kite!
Colorful kites of all sizes and shapes will be flying high over the grounds of the Mid-America Windmill Museum during its annual Mother’s Day kite flying demonstration, May 10. Working together with members of the Hoosier Kiteflyers Society and museum volunteers, children of all ages can build a simple sled kite in Baker Hall.
When: Sunday, May 10 — 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Cost: Children 12 and under are free, $2 for children age 13+.
Editor’s Note: Please keep in mind that this event could change due to events surrounding the COVID-19 virus. Be sure to check the museum’s website and social media for information.