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Windmill returns to the site where it was first built

Elgresident Maurice Dyer was instrumental bringing windmill Foundry Park. | Denise Moran ~ For Sun-Times Media

Elgin resident Maurice Dyer was instrumental in bringing the windmill to Foundry Park. | Denise Moran ~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 10, 2013 6:21AM

ELGIN — The 1921 windmill that once pumped water for the home of Elgin pioneer aviator Richard Peck has returned to the place where it was originally made.

Peck was a pilot for two expeditions, according to Mike Alft’s book, “Days Gone By.” One trip was to New Guinea in 1925. The second expedition was to a primitive area of Papua with scientists who were seeking a disease-resistant sugar cane.

Peck was killed near Wheaton in 1931 while testing an experimental airplane sponsored by the Chicago Daily News.

Elgin Area Historical Society members and volunteers gathered at Foundry Park on Saturday to bring the windmill that once graced Peck’s home back to life. Since 2004, it has been stored at Frank Engel’s farm in Hampshire.

According to EAHS President George Rowe, the Elgin Wind Power and Pump Co. that manufactured the windmill was located where the park now exists.

“The company was in operation from 1880 to 1946,” Rowe said. “George Peck, Richard’s father, was both the president of the Elgin windmill company and the owner of a leading department store in Elgin. After he built a home for his son, he set up a windmill on the property to provide water for the home, which at the time was outside city limits.”

The Foundry Park property, according to Rowe, was also once the address for a woolen mill and sawmill. Other companies that have been located at the site include: Pearsall Butter & Tub Co., Woodruff & Edwards Foundry, and Shedd-Bartush Manufacturing.

In 2004, Elgin resident Maurice Dyer, EAHS vice president, learned that the former Peck home along Larkin Avenue had been sold. Its new owner wanted to give the windmill to the historical society.

“We considered several options of where to put the windmill,” Dyer said. “We looked at placing it by our museum or at Judson University. We decided to return it to its origins.”

Bryan Kinser of Bryan Kinser Enterprises Inc. in Addison brought his cranes to Foundry Park on Saturday to erect the windmill. George McCausland of George’s Equipment Repair & Welding Inc., Genoa, performed the welding.

Today, custom windmills in Illinois include De Immigrant in Fulton, Fabyan Windmill in Geneva, Fischer Windmill in Elmhurst, Peotone Windmill, and Prairie Mills Windmill in Golden.

“While Batavia once had six windmill companies, Elgin had one,” Dyer said. “Elgin windmills were the first ones built with a fully contained gearbox. Farmers only had to service them twice a year instead of once a month.”

Farmers would use windmills to help fill the cattle and horse troughs with water.

Dyer said that the cypress wood tank on the Foundry Park windmill can hold 600 gallons of water. The tank was recently cleaned with a light pressure washing.

“We would have left the wood natural if the tank was still going to be used to provide drinking water,” Dyer said. “Since it will not be used, it was coated with linseed oil.”

While the windmill will not pump water, the fan blades are still capable of turning. Dyer said that Engel rebuilt the gear box with new bushings and refinished gears.

“The windmill will turn periodically,” Dyer said. “We cannot leave it running all the time in case of windstorms.”

Dyer said that 12 volunteers spent three weekends repainting the windmill. It was wire brushed and then treated with a rust encapsulator, two coats of primer and two coats of finish paint. Frank Engel’s grandchildren, Jake, 13, and Mackenzie, 9, helped to paint the windmill.

Dyer noted that “there is no comparison of windmills to wind turbines. A wind turbine can be 300 feet high with one blade two times as high as the windmill at Foundry Park.”

A dedication ceremony for the windmill is planned at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 20.

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