Open and operating.
Tours are available during open hours, by chance, or by appointment. Visit their website for current pricing information.
May to October
Saturday: 12:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Sunday: 1:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Closed / non-operational during winter.
Ground level only
(1873 - 1930s) (2002 - present) Rye
(1873 - 1930s) (2002 - present) Graham
(1873 - 1930s) (2002 - present) Corn
(1874 - 1930s) (2002 - present) Buckwheat
(1874 - 1890s) (2002 - present) Wheat
(1872 - 1873) Original
(1998 - 2004) Restoration
Henry Emminga (Original)
Derek Ogden (Restoration)
Henry Emminga (1872 - 1878)
Harm Emminga (1878 - 1915)
John Emminga (1915 - 1923)
Fred Franzen (1922 - 1930s)
Independent Owners (1930s - 1986)
Golden Historical Society (1986 - present)
History of the Mill
The Prairie Mills Windmill is unique in that it is the only operational, locally-built windmill that still uses its original gearing and grinding stones. It is also unique in that it is the only surviving windmill in Illinois—and one of few ever in Illinois—to have used patent shutter sails rather than canvas.
Construction on the Prairie Windmill began just two months upon Henry Emminga’s return to the United States in 1872 after spending enjoying successful business with his second smock mill in Felde, Germany. He settled in Golden, Illinois once again, but this time on a farm about a mile southeast of his old Custom Mill, which was probably the best location for a mill: the site is just footsteps away from the Wabash and the Burlington Northern railroads.
Once again, the windmill was built with just local resources (except for the French grinding stones). Hand-hewn oak timber and 35 loads of rocks were laid out on Emminga’s new 33-acre plot. In spite of the fact that the Prairie Mills is the newest of his three and is probably the best-crafted, Emminga first built this windmill without the technological advancements seen in other windmills in the state. For instance, raising grain to the grinding floor was done by using a simple sack hoist as opposed to grain elevators. Stone tentering still had to be done by hand (although, because the Prairie mill ground such a variety of grains, it was probably better to have this done by hand) as well. Still, this windmill probably has the best construction out of all the mills in the state. Its gearing was built so well that its parts did not need to be refurbished later; and it is one of few mills to have originally been built with a copper wind shaft and iron quants.
The mill began grinding in September 1873 despite a delay in wheat processing; Emminga was unable to obtain a bolting machine for wheat flour and thus delayed installing a third set of stones. By the following year, however, the Prairie Mills Windmill was grinding award-winning flour and grains from all over the Midwest. Although business was booming, Henry Emminga was aging. When he grew older, he could no longer operate the mill and thus sold it to his son, Harm Emminga, in the fall of 1878. Henry then moved back to Germany where he died eight years later.
Harm Emminga continued to operate the windmill using wind power, but to increase wheat flour capacity he built a “New Era” steam-powered mill across the street along the rail tracks. Business continued to go well for Harm as new milling technology eventually allowed him to mill more flour (by using rollers instead of heavy stones) at the New Era mill, while the Prairie mill continued to operate grinding corn as well as specialty grains such as rye, buckwheat, and graham.
Around 1900, Harm changed the design of the sails on the Prairie mill to ease operation. Rather than climb the sails to rig canvas, Harm installed shutters that were operable by a lever. This was, perhaps, the first and only mill in Illinois to operate with shutter sails rather than canvas.
Harm operated the business until his death in 1915, when his son John took over. At the beginning of the twentieth century, business was steady but probably not as profitable as it once was. In 1922, he formed a partnership with Fred Franzen who continued to operate the Custom Windmill. Together, the men formed the Consolidated Cereal Company, using all three locations to mill local grains. John Emminga, however, lost interest in the business, and decided to sell his shares just one year later. Franzen, operating the three mills, kept the business going but had problems beginning in 1924 when a storm damaged two of the Prairie Mill’s sails. The mill was converted to gasoline engine power but, inevitably, the higher operating costs and the Great Depression forced Franzen to sell the mills in the 1930s.
There was very little interest in the Prairie mill until 1986. The town of Benson, Illinois offered a bid to purchase the mill. Infuriated locals retaliated by raising the money necessary to purchase the windmill under the newly formed Golden Historical Society. After raising more funds, the society turned to Derek Ogden, a world-renowned millwright with the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM) to examine the windmill. In spite of some structural problems, most of the windmill’s inner gearing, left untouched since the 1930s, was still operable.
All three wing buildings and the cap were completely rebuilt, although there were no problems whatsoever with the brake wheel, brake band, or wind shaft. The tower needed the most work, as the limestone foundation allowed water to seep into the tower and rot the main framework. The society also chose to operate the mill with two traditional canvas sails and two shutter sails. The mill began grinding again in 2002, 70 years after closing.
In 2004, rot apparently caused the tail pole to snap, immediately shutting down production at the mill (since the tail pole supports a portion of the cap’s weight). Luckily, two grants totaling $6700 covered the cost to replace the tail pole. That same year, restoration of the north wing was completed.
The Prairie Mills Windmill was also featured on the PBS series “Illinois Adventure” with Jim Wilhelm. Jim details the history and workings of the mill, as well as some interesting historical trivia about the residents of Golden, IL.
Illinois Adventures with Jim Wilhelm
Prairie Mills Windmill. Golden Historical Society, 2005.
Wienke, Anne. When the Wind Blows... Golden, IL: Taylor Publishing Company, 1998.
Prairie Mill pamphlet. Golden Historical Society.
The completed Prairie Mills in 2004.
Photo from Golden Historical Society