Custom Windmills

Fischer Windmill

Old Dutch Mill, Mount Emblem Mill, Ehlers' Mill


Mount Emblem Cemetery
520 East Grand Avenue
Elmhurst, IL 60126

 

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Status

Under Restoration (2014)


Tours

This windmill is closed to the public.


Hours

Mount Emblem Cemetery is open daily from dawn to dusk. The cemetery office features some rare old photographs and has pamphlets available.


Wheelchair Accessible

Ground level only


Website

Mount Emblem Cemetery


Tower Height

51'


Sail Span

74' (Original); 50' (Current)


Uses

(1867 - 1874?) Wheat
(1867 - 1916?) Corn
(1936 - present) Bell Tower


Constructed

(1865 - 1867) Original
(1925 - 1926) Restoration


Millwrights

Henry Frederick Fischer (Original)
Christian Heidemann (Original)
Henry Korthauer (Original)
Henry Ehlers (Restoration)
Franklyn Ehlers (Restoration)


Owners

Henry Frederick Fischer (1867 - 1877)
Edward Ehlers (1877 - 1916)
Caroline Ehlers (1916 - 1925)
Mount Emblem Cemetery (1925 - present)


Honors

1956: DuPage County Historical Society


Model Fischer Windmill

Construction progress




The Fischer Windmill, June 2010

Photo by Tom Haskell



History


Facing northeast to the entrance of Mount Emblem Cemetery is the Fischer Windmill, the oldest standing windmill in the state of Illinois.  Although it is now beautifully adorned by planned landscaping—including Lake Emblem, evergreens, and lilac bushes—the mill has fallen into a state of disrepair.  Of the five remaining custom windmills in Illinois, it was the only that was not, nor had plans to be, restored and operational until 2011.
 
The “official” story that Mount Emblem Cemetery and other sources incorrectly publish is that construction of the windmill began in 1847 by Frederick L. Fischer and was completed by 1850; however, land and tax records from the DuPage County Clerk reveal a different story:  Frederick L. Fischer owned almost three hundred acres of land across DuPage and Cook counties.  Upon his death, he left his son, Henry Frederick Fischer, with the land in DuPage County.  The land was not part of any municipality at that time; in fact, it wasn’t until 1981 that the City of Elmhurst annexed the land. 
 
Henry began mill construction in 1865 (as an interesting side note, the Graue Mill was erected by Henry’s brothers-in-law, William Asche and Frederick Graue).  The mill itself was not made from local timber; rather, its parts were prefabricated to Fischer’s specifications and shipped to Elmhurst from Holland in pieces (similar to the method used in constructing De Immigrant in Fulton).  Asked to aid with the construction of the mill were: Christian Heidemann, whose own mill in Addison would later be based on Fischer’s design; and Henry Korthauer, a cabinet maker from Bensenville.  It took nearly three years to build because of changes to the design during its construction (despite being constructed without machinery, most mills took just a year or so to build).  The great spur wheel alone took six months to complete.
 
The hand-crafted Dutch style mill features cypress beams, hickory and white oak gearing, and white pine sails all resting on a two-story foundation of stone.  With a sail span of over 74’ and capability of 40 barrels per day, Fischer’s mill was one of the largest in the state.  Technologically speaking, Fischer’s mill is very advanced: it features grain elevators; a fly-ball governor to automatically tenter the grinding stones; an auxiliary drive system; “shakers” that automatically tap grain into the stones; the latest wheat-cleaning and corn-shelling machines; and a spiral conveyor. 
 
The north receiving wing (which once had double-doors that wagons could back into) is equipped with a cart that rides on tracks to ease the transport of grains from farmers’ wagons to the grain bins at the center of the mill.  A bolting machine that separated and bagged the freshly-ground flour is located in the east shipping wing.  To drive the windmill on calm days, a 25-horsepower steam engine was installed in the west wing.  A photograph recently surfaced showing a small building to the north of the east wing that may have served as an office or shed; the small building, which matches the architecture of the other wings, does not appear in photographs taken after 1886.
       
The mill began grinding with two run-of-stone (one for wheat, one for corn) by 1867.  With the mill in close proximity to what is now the Chicago and Northwestern railroad, business for Fischer was probably great.  Heidemann’s windmill, which began grinding in 1868, and Brockman’s windmill, which opened in 1870, were the only competition in the area.  With each mill capable of 40 barrels per day, local needs were just barely met.
 
Ten years after opening, Fischer sold the mill and ten acres to Edward Ehlers for $10,000.  Fischer moved his family to Oregon where, three years later, he sold another 21 acres to Ehlers.  Fischer used the money to purchase a water mill capable of 50 barrels a day.
 
Profitable wheat farming in Illinois hit an all-time low in 1894, and it is likely that wheat grinding stopped around that time.  As profits dropped, the windmill’s maintenance was neglected.  The steam engine in the west wing was removed in 1910 and the space was used for storage.  The mill probably stopped grinding altogether around 1916 when Edward Ehlers passed away (photographs indicate that two sails, located opposite one another, had broken off around 1912.  Despite this fact, it is possible the mill could still operate). 
 
Edward’s widow Caroline (daughter of Henry Korthauer, one of the original builders) sold the farm and windmill to the Mount Emblem Association for $10,000 in 1925.  Although the windmill and farm buildings were initially scheduled for demolition, the association instead hired Henry and Franklyn Ehlers, Edward’s sons, of Ehlers Brothers General Contractors, to preserve the mill as a museum.  Ehlers Brothers Construction also built the Elmhurst State Bank Building (now a 5/3 Bank) at 105 S. York Road.  
 
They rebuilt the two missing sails; installed new windows, shingles and trim; replaced and reinforced the stage and hand rails; painted the mill; and turned the sails to a Saint Andrew’s cross, or ‘X’ formation, which traditionally means the mill is in “a long rest period.”  The cap was turned to the northeast toward the cemetery’s entrance.  It was not long, however, before the prevailing west winds lifted the cap of the mill off the dead curb track.  To prevent future damage, the cap was permanently strapped to the tower.  The Itasca Electric Store installed flood lights on the roof of both the north and east wings to illuminate the mill at night.
 
The barn was the only other structure that survived demolition; it is now the home and headquarters of the cemetery custodian.  What was left of the windmill’s west wing was destroyed when the area was cleared for construction of the administration building and parking lot.  The iron drive shaft is still visible from the exterior of the west wall of the mill.  The cemetery’s administration building, along with the entrance gates and bridges, were designed to resemble English architecture of the 1850s to “match” the styles used when the windmill was built; however, these copper and stone English structures only contrast with the German and Dutch woodwork of the mill. 
 
Dr. Preston Bradley dedicated the opening of the cemetery in June of 1936.  Since then, the windmill plays music on Sundays and holidays from loudspeakers in the third floor windows.  It took eleven years for the architects of Simonds, West, & Blair to transform 75 acres (now 160 acres) of flat farmland into a picturesque, tranquil scene with tens of thousands of new trees and shrubs in addition to the creation of Lake Emblem. 
 
From 1926 to 1990, the windmill had been left untouched; it became an historical local icon in addition to the subject of artists’ paintings and the backdrop for both weddings and funerals.  In 1956, Mount Emblem was awarded for its preservation of the mill by the DuPage County Historical Society.  The sails eventually lost their wind boards, and three of the sails broke as a result of tail-winding.  The replacement sails, nearly identical to the one remaining original (the lower left), were a few feet shorter with only 26 sail-bars instead of 30.
 
During the winter of 1990-91, a severe storm nearly destroyed the mill.  Forces against the tail of the cap caused the brake to release and the sails to turn.  The wind shaft twisted apart.  As the sails fell, the brake wheel rose until its teeth came into contact with the wallower which, thankfully, held together and prevented the machinery from causing further damage.  The mill remained this way—with its damaged sails angled toward the ground as the unbalanced cap teetered on the tower while slowly being pulled apart by the brake wheel—for some time until the sails were finally removed and the cap repaired.  The aging mill was deemed structurally unsafe was thus permanently closed to the public.
 
The following year, all four sails and the wind shaft were replaced, but the replacement sails were purely for show; the new windshaft was permanently bolted to the brake wheel, and the sails (although, in many ways, staying true to the original sail design) built without an angle of weather, and this time only containing 19 sail bars each.  In 1998, yet another storm tail-winded the cap, snapping its two upper sails.  These were replaced, and the entire sail structure was reinforced with extra bolts, clamps, and cables. 
 
A winter storm in 2003-2004 brought all four sails down again.  For the bulk of 2004, the sails and wind shaft sat on the ground to the east of the mill  (some joked the sails looked like a giant version of a tjasker) as a gaping hole in the cap exposed the brake wheel.  In early 2005 the sails were replaced again, this time apparently using light-weight aluminum bolted to the mill's cap.  These new sails (with a mere 13 sail-bars widely spaced apart), combined with the broken windows and over-grown bushes, undoubtedly kill any grandeur the windmill ever had.



Latest Developments


Apparently, the idea of reviving the windmill is not new.  In a 2007 visit to the mill, I peeked into the windows of the north wing, and against the north wall I noticed a green-and-white sign that read “Windmill Restoration / Starting Spring 1996.”  Unfortunately, the plans were not pursued. 
 
Since 2008, the cemetery has been storing old window frames inside the east wing.  In 2010, the portion of the east wing near the center of the mill slipped off of its foundation.  This caused part of the stage to fall, breaking one of the stage’s supporting timbers from the stone tower wall.  The siding along the north side of the east wing is bending and buckling under pressure. 

The blizzard of 2011 also caused significant damage to the mill.  More timbers supporting the stage broke free of their stone foundations from the weight of the snow.  The high winds actually managed to turn the immovable sails one-eight of a revolution, and winds also blew open two of the access doors, where snow drifts piled high inside of the mill.

The Fischer Windmill is now under restoration!



Sources


-Vierling, Philip E. The Fischer Windmill. Chicago: Illinois Country Outdoor Guides, 1994.
-The History of the Old Dutch Mill.  Mount Emblem Cemetery.
-Pirola, Louis. Historic American Buildings Survey. Heideman Mill, Addison IL. Chicago: HABS, 1934.
-“Windward ho!” Addison Press. 26 June 1998.
-DuPage County Clerk land and tax records, 1850—1926
-Advertisement.  Cook County Herald. 2 November 1926
-1874 Combination Atlas of DuPage County
-photographs of the Bensenville Public Library
-photographs of the Elmhurst Historical Society
-oral history of Ernestine Ehlers Hackmeister
-map of Mount Emblem Cemetery
-personal records / observations



Images


Etching of Henry Frederick Fischer's residence from the 1874 Atlas of DuPage County.
Photo looking north-northeast (1880s), showing the full engine house and original office prior to their demolition, from e-bay.
Photo looking northeast (1886) from Elmhurst Historical Society.
Photo looking east, under Ehlers’ ownership from Bensenville Public Library.
Photo looking southwest, with Ehlers family on the stage from Bensenville Public Library.
Photo of the farm and mill from Bensenville Public Library.
Photo of the Korthauer family with the Fischer Windmill as their backdrop (1920s) from Aaron Lisec.
Photo after Ehlers’ restoration as Mount Emblem is constructed (1925) from Bensenville Public Library.
Photo announcing the future site of Mount Emblem from Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Photo Mount Emblem crew (1926) with the west wing still intact from Elmhurst Historical Society.
Photo showing landscaping being performed from Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Photo Mount Emblem, looking southeast (1927) from Elmhurst Historical Society.
Photo showing the mill grounds, with finished cemetery office from Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Advertisement in the Chicago Tribune to announce cemetery’s opening from Chicago Tribune.
Fan depicting the cemetery’s opening.
Scan of the official Mount Emblem rulebook.
Photo of the cemetery from Grand Avenue from Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Photo looking west-southwest of Lake Emblem and the mill years after opening from Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Photo of the mill looking south from Franklin Park Library.
Photo looking southeast (1937) from Elmhurst Historical Society.
Painting of the mill, looking southwest (c.a. 1949) by John Dukes McKee.
Photo of the Fischer Mill, prior to moving De Zwaan from the Netherlands to Holland, MI (1964) from the Chicago Tribune.
Photo of the main entrance to the mill (1975) from Joe and Jeanette Archie
Photo looking east (1975) from Joe and Jeanette Archie
Photo looking south-southwest (1975) from Joe and Jeanette Archie
Photo looking south-southwest (1980s) from A History of Hillside.
Photo looking south-southwest (1980s) from History of DuPage County.
Photo looking southwest (1988) by Florence Sell.
Photo looking southwest (2002) by Tom Haskell.
Photo looking west (2002) by Tom Haskell.
Photo looking south in winter (2002) by Tom Haskell.
Photo of the removed sails sitting just east of the mill (2004) by Tom Haskell.
Photo damaged cap in winter (2004) by Tom Haskell.
Photo of the removed sails (2004) from geocaching.com.
Photo of the removed sails (2004) from johnfromtheradio on Flickr.
Photo looking southwest (2005) by Bill O'Brien.
Photo looking east (2007) by Henryk Sadura.
Photo looking southwest (2007) by Tom Haskell.
Photo of the shipping wing, with bolting machine to the right (2007) by Tom Haskell.
Photo of the drive shaft that was once connected to a steam engine in the west wing (2009) by Tom Haskell.
Photo of the winch used to turn the cap (2009) by Tom Haskell
Photo looking east (2009) by Tom Haskell
Photo detailing the cap and sheer trees (2009) by Tom Haskell
Photo looking southwest of the damage to the mill from the blizzard (2011) by Tom Haskell.



Other Images


Postcard depicting the Elmhurst State Bank Building, built by Ehlers' Brothers Construction.
Postcard of the mill (unknown date).
Postcard of the mill (unknown date).
Image of the mural within the administrative building from Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Image of the headstone display behind the mill from Mount Emblem Cemetery.
Map of Mount Emblem Cemetery.



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