WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.
Colonial Williamsburg is inviting guests to witness one of the last major steps in the relocation and renovation of a popular landmark that has been closed to visitors since 2003.
The Windmill of Colonial Williamsburg, first commissioned for the 350th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown in 1957, will have its 30,000-pound, rotating two-story house lifted onto the 18-foot tall main post in a ceremony Tuesday morning.
The windmill has moved from its original location behind the Peyton Randolph House on Nicholson Street – and around the corner from the Governor’s Palace – to near the Great Hopes Plantation, a re-creation of a typical 18th-century Virginia family farm that stands off Visitor Center Drive.
While the term windmill typically calls to mind an image of a fixed structure with rotating sails – known as a smock windmill – the Windmill of Colonial Williamsburg is a post windmill, which means that the entire building rotates along with the sails.
The windmill is the only one of its type in operation in the Eastern U.S.
For nearly four decades, the mill was a major attraction in the historic district until it ceased operation in the mid-1990s because of wear, flaws in its construction and the growth of trees that disrupted its power source.
In 2003 it closed to visitors and lay dormant for years before public interest and financial support from a longtime Colonial Williamsburg supporter – David McShane of Bucks County, Penn. – made it possible to revisit the windmill’s potential as a future attraction.
“This windmill has been associated with Colonial Williamsburg since the 1950s,” said Matthew Webster, director of the Grainger Department of Architectural Preservation. “People remember it, they love it, so we’re bringing it back.”
Colonial Williamsburg chose the Great Hopes Plantation site for the renovated windmill because it better aligned with history; the more urban surroundings of the 1770s-era Randolph House would likely not have included a windmill. Great Hopes Plantation, which showcases rural life, was a more natural choice for the Windmill’s permanent home.
In addition to a new location, the windmill is debuting a new look. A rust-red, iron oxide tar paint replaces the white paint. The change is another that would make it more historically accurate while also protecting the structure from the elements.
The Windmill of Colonial Williamsburg required extensive restoration. Much of the structure’s wood had been rotted or worn down over time, requiring it to be replaced, repainted and treated to protect from damage in the future.
Architects, engineers and carpenters also had to address certain structural and mechanical flaws in the original design to prevent future malfunction.
Tuesday’s ceremony will see the bulk of the work on the mill completed when an 180-ton crane lifts the two-story house onto an 18-foot-tall post.
Once the structure in place, Webster anticipates the remainder of the work on the mill, which will include setting the sails, finishing up the internal gearing and making sure everything is in working order, will be completed within the month.
The Windmill will be used to grind grain on a regular basis, which has the twofold advantage of making it a more interesting attraction and actually keeping it in better working order, rather than letting it sit dormant and fall into disrepair, Webster said.
The second floor of the house is where the gearing and mill stones are located, while the first floor houses the sifters.
“A good way to think of it is that the upstairs is production and the downstairs is packaging,” Webster said.
It has yet to be decided what kind of access visitors will have to the mill, but it is possible tours of the house will be offered at some point.
Whether visitors can go inside, Webster said he believes the windmill is worth a visit for its sheer novelty.
“You’re not going to see anything like it anywhere else,” he said.