If you stop by the Mid-America Windmill Museum this month, be prepared to celebrate: The museum marks its 25th anniversary with festivities set for Saturday, July 20. The anniversary event will feature guest speakers, live music, food vendors, tours, and games for kids.
Members of classic car clubs especially enjoy the museum. This summer, for instance, a group of 200 people and 150 cars are set to visit. School groups and bus tours also find their way to the museum. “We have a sign on Interstate 69 (about 15 miles east),” Pam says, “and a lot of people see that.”
Deep in the heart of windmill country
A total of 60 windmills are displayed inside and out at the museum’s 20-acre site adjacent to a 20-acre campground owned by the city of Kendallville. At least 11 are mills built by Kendallville’s Flint & Walling Mfg. Co. “At one time, Flint & Walling was the second largest windmill manufacturer in the U.S.,” says Jerry Stienbarger, a member of the museum’s board of directors. Kendallville could legitimately be considered the heart of early windmill manufacture in the U.S. “There were once 80 windmill manufacturers in the tri-state area around Kendallville,” he says.
The museum’s collection also includes the final Flint & Walling Star Zephyr to come off the line when production ended in 1954 (the company remains in operation today, now producing a full line of submersible pumps). Other mills on display were produced by companies like Dempster, Eclipse, Elgin, Aermotor, and South Africa’s Southern Cross. “Some were donated,” Jerry says. “Some we scraped up enough money to buy.”
“We got our big start when we bought the Lefty Christopher collection,” Jerry explains. “We paid $154,000 to buy the whole collection.” Many of those mills came from the American Southwest. “One of my favorites is the 1854 Halladay Standard,” he adds. “It’s the most complete Halladay Standard known to exist. It was designed in 1880. It has more parts and pieces than any windmill I’ve ever seen.”
The museum’s Robertson post windmill is nearly one of a kind. A replica of the first windmill built in the U.S., the 54-foot single-stone gristmill features mortise-and-tenon construction. A copy of a mill in historic Fredericksburg, Virginia, the Kendallville mill offers a unique glimpse into the past. The mill is not used, but visitors can view the interior mechanisms.
Historic mills in a historic barn
The museum is housed in a bank barn (one that opens on two levels) built in 1889. Featuring mortise-and-tenon construction like the Robertson mill, the structure is formed of hand-hewed wood. The two main barn stringers measure 60 feet in length, each a solid piece of wood. Donated by Walter and Marie Klinger, the barn was moved to the museum site in 1993.
Siding protects the barn’s exterior, but the interior remains original. “It still has a squeaky old barn floor,” Pam says. “You’re definitely in a barn.” Original hay trolleys remain intact. “People have seen windmills and hay trolleys,” Jerry says, “but they’ve never seen them inside.” Inside and out, the mills churn up long-forgotten memories. “We get a lot of senior visitors,” Jerry says. “They tell us they had forgotten the sound of a windmill. And every mill has its own sound.”
The barn is home to several windmills and related displays, a historical timeline, a theater where a windmill documentary is shown, and a gift shop. Volunteers run the entire operation, performing maintenance, giving tours, and handling events and promotional activities. A 21-member board directs the operation.
Focusing on education
The complex includes a banquet hall where weddings are booked solid from April to November. “That brings in local people who didn’t know about the museum,” Jerry says. A St. Patrick’s Day dance, held as a fundraiser, also draws locals. But the Windmill Winter Wonderland held the first two weekends in December is the real moneymaker. At that event, the entire 20-acre property is lavishly decorated with holiday lights.
Other programs have a strong educational component. The museum routinely hosts large school groups. “A lot of kids don’t know what a windmill is,” Jerry says. “We ask them if they know where water comes from. ‘Out of a faucet,’ they say. That’s where we have to educate them.”
Museum guides teach the children about wind power and aquifers. “They’re totally blown away when we tell them that water comes out of the ground,” Jerry says. A hand pump under a Flint & Walling Model 37 is a huge attraction. “Kids will stand there for hours and run that pump,” Jerry says. Education is also a key component of Kite Day, held every Mother’s Day. Members of the Hoosier Kitefliers Society help children build and fly kites. “It’s all about wind,” Jerry says, “but it’s something fun for kids.” FC
Mid-America Windmill Museum, P.O Box 5048, 732 S. Allen Chapel Rd., Kendallville, IN 46755; phone: (260) 347-2334. Open April 1-Nov. 30: Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m. (closed Mondays). Adults, $5; 55 and over, $4; children/students, $3; under 6, free. 25th anniversary celebration, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, July 20; no charge for admission.
Leslie C. McManus is senior editor of Farm Collector. Email her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.
Windmill enthusiast Jerry Stienbarger lives in Kendallville, Indiana, where he is a member of the board of directors of the Mid-America Windmill Museum. Contact him at (260) 242-3965; email: jdst13n@ligtel.