Back October 5, 2021
Travel Blog

De Immigrant Windmill | Where authenticity & heritage meet

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You learn something new every day.

Settled on the banks of the Mississippi in 1835, Fulton’s past is rich in its river town history and Dutch heritage. The windmill, nicknamed De Immigrant, at 10th and First streets, pays homage to the town’s Dutch heritage.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, both the windmill and the Windmill Cultural Center attracted approximately 10,000 visitors a year. As with many public spaces last year, the windmill and the Windmill Cultural Center were closed the entire 2020 season.

Happily, both sites reopened–for weekends only–in June 2021. When visiting, bring your masks as they are required while in either building.

NOTE: Scroll to the bottom of the article to locate each visited venue’s contact information.

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Jane Orman Luker and her husband, Neal, provided my road trip buddy, Debbie, and me with a tour of the Windmill Cultural Center and the windmill. The husband and wife duo belong to Friends of the Windmill, the fundraising organization that accepts charitable donations on behalf of the windmill and Cultural Center.

Both entities run entirely with volunteer staff. About two dozen residents volunteer to help run the mill, and others give tours and work in the gift shop.

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Some background

The windmill’s presence is due, in part, to a severe flood in 1965. A Dutch-style levee–or flood control dike–was built in the 1980s to protect Fulton’s residential and commercial properties. It seemed appropriate to have a beautiful Dutch windmill atop it. Historic Dutch windmills cannot be legally exported from the Netherlands. This replica structure is based on those that dotted the Dutch landscape for centuries.

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The eight-sided windmill–standing nearly 100 feet tall–at the cost of $1 million–was purchased by the town, along with a state grant. An additional $200,000 bought the grinding apparatus that makes it a working windmill. Through fundraising efforts, the grinding stones were added and officially dedicated on May 5, 2001. This replica, at 30 metric tons, was engineered and pre-assembled in the Netherlands. It came to the United States by rail, truck, and ship.

Fulton’s Dutch windmill is a “beltmolen.” In Dutch, “belt” means mound of dirt, and “molen” means mill. This windmill, like most beltmolens, has an entrance at ground level.

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Time to put the pieces together

Following the delivery to Fulton in 1999, Dutch millwrights and masons traveled to the United States on three separate occasions and rebuilt the windmill in Fulton. Wooden pegs assemble the massive timbers.

Dedication of the new Dutch Windmill took place during its famous annual Dutch Days Festival on May 6, 2000.

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The windmill is fully operational. The entire head (or cap) can turn, and the sails move by wind power. The mill is also fully functional with a set of blue basalt millstones that can produce a variety of flours.

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Stone-ground buckwheat, corn, rye, and wheat flours are all manufactured at De Immigrant and sold in the Windmill Cultural Center gift shop and Fulton Meat Market. The gift shop also sells Delft pottery and both Fulton and windmill souvenirs.

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A stairway leads up into the windmill. Access to the windmill can also be reached by walkways on the top of the dike. The windmill is partially handicap accessible. The stones take up three floors with various types of machinery.

“Millers can grind about a bushel of grain every 10 minutes, wind permitting. “We need at least ten mph wind to run; 15 mph is even better,” Luker said.

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Across the street

The Windmill Cultural Center is directly across the street from De Immigrant Windmill. The Center houses Henk and June Hielema’s (of DeMotte, IN) extensive collection of 23 European windmills representing ten European countries, ranging from 10 inches to over six feet tall.

In the 1970s, while employed in Belgium, Henk and June photographed many of the country’s mills. There, he began building the models from blueprints of the lifesize mills. June did much of the models’ painting, finding new techniques to create slate or thatched roofs.

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After retiring, they moved to DeMotte, Indiana, June’s family farm, where he continued building his models. The Hielema’s collection outgrew their home bringing them to look for an appropriate venue to house the models. There were two conditions that every venue needed to meet. First, it had to have environmentally controlled heat and humidity systems. Second, the windmills could only be moved once. The building had to be in place and ready to go.

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Jane Orman Luker was happy to know Fulton was their top choice. “We had two problems. One, we didn’t have a building to use, and we didn’t have any money to build one,” she said. Henk replied that he knew that the Fulton volunteers raised the money needed for the grinding stones for the De Immigrant Windmill in just one year. “If you can commit to fundraising and writing grants, we will wait,” said Hielema.

The Fulton folks did it. The Lukers and volunteers are a force. With donations and grants, the City of Fulton was able to build the Windmill Cultural Center. The dedication took place in April of 2010.

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Before the pandemic, The Education Area of the Center featured video presentations of the windmills’ countries and an area that contained children’s activities, including coloring, puzzles, and toys promoting scientific concepts. The Center has interpretive exhibits that provide unique information on the products produced by each windmill model, its country of origin, windmill specifications, and the cultural impact of windmills. Hopefully, in 2022, school groups and group tours will have full access to this uniquely informative space.

Tours | Hours

Currently, visitors can enjoy tours on weekends only from May through October. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that in 2022 we will be fully open in both the windmill and cultural center,” Said Orman Luker.

The hours are Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m.

Entrance to both venues is free, but donations are always appreciated for maintenance and operations.

Places to visit while in Fulton

After our tour, Debbie and I had worked up an appetite. Initially, we planned to visit Krumpets Bakery Cafe, located at 1016 4th St., as it was highly recommended, but for some reason, it was closed for the day. We will be back!

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No worries, Jane recommended the Steam Anchor at the edge of town at 1310 17th St. We enjoyed the delicious sandwiches and ice-cold beverages. Featured in our travel blog in 2018, it is thriving with a brisk lunch business.

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After our lunch, we decided to drop by a popular gift shop called Sweet Woodruff. Located at 1102 4th St., it was decked out in full-on autumnal glory. The inside, filled with beautiful home accessories, candles, purses, etc., is a shopper’s nirvana. With the holiday season fast approaching, consider adding Sweet Woodruff as a shopping destination. The holidays are coming, and I will be back.

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Finally, before leaving town, we decided to visit Wierenga’s Heritage Canyon, located at 515 N 4th St. The canyon is a 12-acre wooded nature walk dotted with buildings that take you back to the 1800s.

From the mid-1800s-1954, it was a limestone quarry. Harold and Thelma Wierenga bought the quarry in 1967. They had two goals in mind–-preserve midwestern history emphasizing detail and authenticity, and disturb nature as little as possible. As the years passed and Harold’s death in 1999, the City of Fulton took ownership of the canyon and its upkeep. Now, the Early American Crafters, a group of volunteers, help support the canyon.

Enjoy strolling through the canyon following the numbered yellow arrows that guide you throughout your visit. It’s the perfect family outing exploring the schoolhouse, covered bridge, the Canyon Church, an 1860s house (disassembled and reassembled in the canyon), blacksmith shop, dentist office, and more. There is no admission fee–except for special events–but donations are welcomed.

Take a drive

Enjoy the drive into Fulton, especially during the fall. The winding country roads and farmland will put any anxious heart at ease. There are many other sites and businesses to explore. Maybe we’ll take another trip.

Contact information

City of Fulton
415 11th Ave.
Fulton, IL 61252
Phone: (815) 589-2616

 Krumpets Bakery Cafe
1016 4th St.
Fulton, IL 61252
Phone: 815-208-7143

Sweet Woodruff
1102 4th St.
Fulton, IL 61252
Phone:  815-589-2937

Wierenga’s Heritage Canyon
515 N 4th St.
ulton, IL 61252
Phone:  815-589-4600

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