The following are questions I have received from e-mail submissions and from inquiries during my windmill presentations. If you would like to submit a question, just send an e-mail and I will answer it thoroughly and promptly.
What you witnessed in Paw Paw is the first
“wind farm” installed in Illinois, known as Mendota Hills. As
part of his power conservation plan, [former] Governor Blagojevich worked
to add renewable energy plants to the state’s power grid.
This site was chosen particularly because of the prevailing westerly
winds and completely open plains (a wind farm like this couldn’t
possibly work in the city or suburbs; there are too many obstructions).
Many people assume that the cemetery was established first; but
the land was first owned by Henry Fischer, who operated a farm and built
windmill in 1865. In 1925, the farmland was sold to the Mount
Emblem Cemetery Association, which chose to preserve the windmill and
transform the flat farmland into the hilly tree-lined cemetery we see
No. The sails currently fitted on the
Fischer Windmill are purely for show and could not serve any purpose
because are permanently bolted to the cap. This is the third
complete set of replacement sails, necessary because tail winds have
damaged the original sails and the cap in the past (winds tend to blow
from the west and southwest, but the cap is turned to face the
Batavia was home to Halladay’s U.S. Wind Engine and Pump
Company, the first
windmill manufacturer in the nation. It makes the most
business sense to locate in Batavia because of its proximity to
railroads (to ship windmills and parts anywhere in the nation) and
because it was nestled in the vast corn fields of Illinois (since the
clients were farmers and railroad owners).
Even though the
windmills in Illinois are mixed with German, Swedish, Danish,
British, Flemish, American, and Dutch designs, they are still often
incorrectly referred to as “Dutch mills.” Realistically speaking,
they all appear very similar to the style of windmill that was perfected
and popularized by the Dutch. The historical records kept during
the nineteenth century were often inaccurate or incomplete.
For one, landowners in Holland would often relocate windmills on
their property in an attempt to find the best location to catch the
wind, thus realizing their mills’ maximum potential. Another other
reason is that wood is one of the cheapest building materials.
Since windmills often fall victim to high winds in severe weather, their
broken parts can replaced as often as needed at a low cost. Yet
another reason is that the very fine dust produced by grinding flour is
flammable. If metal parts within the mill were to spark (even if
just from normal vibration), it could ignite the dust and cause an
There are a few differences. Really, a mill and its style
are based on its builder’s preferences and background. The
Dutch developed the smock mill as we know it, but it Germans
modernized the style. German mills are usually wider at the base
to accommodate more machinery, have shingled exteriors (as opposed to
the Dutch, who used reed thatch), and more often have tail fans to
rotate the cap rather than a winch. Other minor differences may
include the way in which the floor joists are cut and mortised into the
cant posts. The styles are all generally similar, especially since
the countries neighbor one another.
There are currently five windmills in Illinois. When
commenting on the condition of the
Graue Mill (a restored water mill in DuPage County), Leslie C.
Swanson, author of Old Mills in the Midwest, writes “1,800 old
mills...once dotted the Illinois landscape.” I do not know how
many of those 1,800 mills could have been windmills. Even in
frontier Illinois, wind-powered mills were scarce because of their
unreliability. To date, I am aware of FIFTY windmills that used to
stand in this state.
Yes, there were FOUR:
1) At 111th and State in the Roseland community.
2) At the present site of the Carl Schurz High School in Old Irving Park
3) At Lincoln Park, back when land owned by Samuel McKay was purchased
for the old Chicago Cemetery in the 1850s.
4) Near the “reservation tract” in 1839.
There were also windmills up for the Colombian Exposition and the World’s Fair, but these were temporarily on display.
Technically speaking, the wooden platform that surrounds a tower
mill is called a “reefing stage.” Just as on sailboats, “reefing”
refers to the adjustment of the sail to harness the wind. The term
“stage” is accurate because it is a platform from which an action is
performed by a person (as opposed to a terrace or balcony, which is used
for leisure or relaxing), and is the traditional term used by
The tail fan, invented in Britain by Edmund Lee in 1745, is used to
automatically wind the cap without any action by the miller. While
this was seen as a great convenience to some millers, the tail fan was
never a popular design feature in Holland, where millers preferred to
have manual control over the direction of the sails. One reason,
they claimed, was that the tail fan would turn the sails into the wind
of a powerful storm.
I became interested in windmills as early as the age of two,
after my aunt passed away and our family frequently visited Mount Emblem
Cemetery. My interest in architecture and the discovery of more
windmills in Illinois eventually led to more research and, ultimately,
the launch of this website.
I would suppose you would first need to contact one of the major
power companies in your area (be it ComEd, or whomever); or, better yet,
contact one of the companies that produces wind turbines (such as
Vestas). That would probably be the better route, since an outside
company would be making the major investment involved in construction a
wind farm. I would assume that they would want to first conduct a
wind analysis to see if your area is windy enough to constitute
constructing a wind farm. After that, they'd just have to secure
funding, order the turbines, and up they'd go!
The American Wind Energy Association, or AWEA, has just about
everything anyone would want to know about wind turbines, including
current and future projects, fact sheets, and wind data for every state.
Find them at www.awea.org.
The painting was donated by the eighth grade graduating class of
1952 from Oak Avenue School in LaGrange Park, Illinois to the Nettie J.
McKinnon Collection of American Art, which is managed by the Salt Creek
American Art Foundation. The painting itself was originally made
in 1949 after John Dukes McKee was commissioned to paint 50 Northern
Illinois landmarks by the Illinois Northern Utilities Company.
As I experienced first-hand with my model windmill
project, the extra timbers at the rear of the cap help to
counter-balance the weight of the sails and wind shaft; without them, it
could be easier for the wind to blow the cap off of the tower in a tail
wind. Another answer, however, is that the mill may have, at one
time, been operating with a tail pole prior to the installation of the
tail fan (the
Peotone Windmill is an example of this).
There are wind-tech classes through the Department of
Technology at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. You can
find a list of links to schools in this field from the U.S. Department
Although a number of residents in outlying areas (like
Joliet and Plainfield) have erected turbines for their homes, larger
turbines, like Big Windy in Schiller Park, have been requested but are
often met with opposition. In addition to the red tape required to
have a large-scale turbine built, the suburbs are more densely populated
and may block the wind necessary to make such a turbine successful.
UPDATE: You may soon see more wind turbines; Governor Pat Quinn signed the School District Intergovernmental Cooperation Renewable Energy Act, allowing schools to use solar and wind energy to power their facilities.
Wind turbines must undergo maintenance tune-ups every thirty days. Thus, on a 150-turbine wind farm, it should not be uncommon to see 5 different wind turbines down every day for maintenance (after all - it would not be economical to shut down all 150 units for a single day of maintenance). Turbines may also be decommissioned if weather conditions are too severe, too light, or if problems are detected that could prevent safe operation.