Windmill celebration held at Elgin’s Foundry Park
By Denise Moran For Sun-Times Media October 22, 2013 2:22PM
A 55-foot-tall windmill that once operated on Elgin's west side rises above Elgin Foundry Park along Route 31 (State Street) on Sunday. The Elgin Tower Building is visible in the background at the lower right. | Denise Moran~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 24, 2013 6:21AM
ELGIN — The 55-foot-tall windmill that was installed in Foundry Park downtown last month was officially welcomed this week as a new city landmark.
Mayor David Kaptain, state Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin) and windmill expert Frank Engel of Hampshire cut the ribbon on Sunday afternoon.
The 1922 windmill once pumped water for the home at 1310 Larkin Ave. on Elgin’s west side. The home’s first owner was Elgin pioneer aviator Richard Peck, who was killed in 1931 near Wheaton while testing an experimental airplane sponsored by the Chicago Daily News.
Richard’s father, George Peck, was both a department store owner and the president of the Elgin Wind Power and Pump Co. that built windmills on the site now known as Foundry Park, along Route 31 (State Street).
Successive owners of Richard Peck’s home continued to use the windmill to pump water until 1990. In 2003, Elgin Area Historical Society vice president Maurice Dyer learned that the owners wanted to donate the windmill.
“We were at the museum when we got the call,” Dyer said. “George Carlson said he was once an employee of the company that manufactured the windmill. He told us that the windmill had historical significance and we should try to save it.”
The windmill was deeded to the society in November 2003. It was dismantled and transported to the Engel farm in Hampshire for restoration.
“George was instrumental in securing the donation of the windmill,” said EAHS president George Rowe. “The windmill is dedicated to his memory.”
Carlson’s daughter, Barbara Carlson-Thornau, granddaughter Karin Sheehy and niece Linnea Carlson, all of Elgin, came to the dedication ceremony Sunday.
“This was a very dear project to my father,” Carlson-Thornau said. “The windmill was moved to the Engel farm in Hampshire in 2004. My father died in 2005. I’m glad that the Elgin Area Historical Society recognizes his contribution.”
Made in Elgin
According to the society, windmills were manufactured in Elgin for more that 60 years beginning in the 1880s. Rural electrification and the 1920s farm depression hurt the local windmill business. Production ceased during the late 1940s. Decades later, however, Elgin manufacturers are producing wind turbines for alternative “green” power.
“This windmill is an example of seeing the past and the future at the same time,” said Noland. “We are now building great machines to provide us with energy.”
“The windmill is known as a Giant Suburban Tower windmill,” Rowe said. “It stands tall and proud as a symbol of our city.”
Engel, who has a number of windmills on his farm in Hampshire, rebuilt the windmill’s gear box with new bushings and refinished gears.
“It’s great for the city of Elgin to have the windmill back to where it was originally built,” said Engel. “There were a lot of people involved in this project. I was fortunate to have been one of them.”
Volunteers such as Elgin residents Paul Larson and Alisa Corsi helped to sand and scrape the windmill. Larson said his friend, Steve Ingraham, lived in a home near the windmill during the 1960s and 1970s.
“Not everyone has a windmill in their backyard,” Larson said.
Bryan Kinser of Bryan Kinser Enterprises Inc. of Addison brought his cranes to Foundry Park last month to erect the windmill. George McCausland of George’s Equipment Repair & Welding Inc. in Genoa performed the welding.
Others who contributed to the project include David Ziegler of Ziegler’s Ace Hardware, legal consultant Al Kirkland, Bob Popeck of Batavia, the city of Elgin, David and Dolores Nelson, Charlen Anderson, Margaret Krueger, Allyn and Melva Tennison and Dyer.
Attendees at Sunday’s event shared their memories of the windmill and the land now known as Foundry Park.
Heather Bankard Wechter is a high school mathematics teacher at St. Paul High School in St. Paul, Ore. She grew up in Elgin and graduated from Elgin High School in 1965. Her grandparents, Donald Samuel Hubbell and Frances “Ruth” Mack Hubbell, lived in the Larkin Avenue home from 1922 to 1956. Donald owned a Lincoln-Ford-Mercury car dealership on Douglas Avenue in Elgin along with a dealership in Aurora.
“I have so many memories of that windmill,” Wechter said. “As a child, I played hide and seek in the windhouse that was built around the bottom of the windmill. I hid messages in the backyard inside the stone wall.”
Julie Minehart of Booneville, Mo., said that her aunt, Lucy Gahan, once owned a tanning business when Foundry Park was the site for many companies such as Pearsall Butter & Tub Co., Woodruff & Edwards Foundry, and Shedd-Barbush Manufacturing.
“Aunt Lucy had five brothers and sisters,” Minehart said. “She was put in charge of the business because she had the most sense.”
Minehart said that the white house still standing southeast of Plum and Spring streets in Elgin was built by her great-great grandfather, Anthony McBriarty, on land given to him by President Ulysses S. Grant. McBriarty is buried in Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery.