Windmillers blowing into Batavia for international conference
By Linda Girardi For The Beacon-News June 13, 2012 2:12PM
Bob Popeck has collected over 30 windmills at his home in Batavia. Originally used to pump water, windmills were adapted to run machinery as well according to Popeck. Here his poses for a photo in front of three of his windmills at his home on Wednesday, June 12, 2012. Batavia will host the 24th annual International Windmillers Trade Fair this week. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2012 2:38PM
BATAVIA — Entering the home of Francine and Bob Popeck is like stepping into another time.
The Popecks have a passion for the history of Batavia — and a remarkable collection of windmills, windmill parts, antiques and collectibles from the city’s past.
“People have described our home as a second museum,” Bob Popeck said. “Everything in the house has a story.”
The Popecks are sharing their love of windmills with the rest of the world this weekend, as Batavia hosts the 24th annual International Windmillers’ Trade Fair.
Enthusiasts of the American windmill will share stories, swap and sell windmill memorabilia at the fair, today through Saturday at Batavia High School. There will be private tours in other parts of the city, including the repurposed Challenge windmill company and sites of Batavia’s other windmill companies.
The Popecks successfully bid on hosting the 2012 conference in Batavia. The last time Batavia hosted the trade fair was in 1996 when more than 600 people came from across the country.
“The windmill is a simple machine — truly connected to the history of Batavia,” Popeck said.
Popeck, a former assistant city administrator and police chief, said Batavia became known as the “windmill capital of the world.” At one time, it was home to six windmill companies.
Special guests at the trade fair include professor, historian and author T. Lindsay Baker. Baker wrote “The Field Guide to the American Windmill,” considered the bible of the windmill industry.
Helen Walter, an editor of The Windmill Journal of Australia and New Zealand, will be the keynote speaker at a banquet at the Lincoln Inn.
Some events are available to both the public and people who register for a $50 fee. There is a suggested donation of $5 for general admission to benefit the Batavia Windmill Maintenance Fund, which supports the city’s collection of windmills around town.
Windmillers will set up a swap-and-shop of windmill parts, weights, advertisements, windmill company products and antique farm equipment manufactured in town or in other cities that also produced windmills. Some people will bring full-size windmills.
Built in Batavia
It was the Popecks who suggested a collection of Batavia-built windmills as the center of attraction in a courtyard between the Batavia Government Center and Riverwalk. Since then, 18 windmills have been placed at key locations throughout the city, including the commercial properties along Randall Road.
“We went to our first Windmillers’ Trade Fair in 1994 in Kendallville, Ind.,” Francine Popeck said. “We saw the windmills as sculptures — they move, are kinetic, make noises and represent our history.”
“The city’s collection of windmills is unique because they were all manufactured in Batavia,” she said.
The couple has three windmills in their own backyard built by the Appleton Manufacturing Company, Challenge Company and U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company.
“At one time, they were necessities,” Bob Popeck said.