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posted: 6/14/2012 6:13 PM

Batavia gets back to it windmill roots

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  • Todd Skinner of Churubusco, Ind., repaired the "Comet" a galvanized steel wind engine that is on display during the 24th annual International Windmillers' Trade Fair going on through Saturday at Batavia High School. Windmill enthusiasts from all over the globe will be in attendance to celebrate their love for windmills. Batavia was once known as the windmill capital of the world.

       Todd Skinner of Churubusco, Ind., repaired the "Comet" a galvanized steel wind engine that is on display during the 24th annual International Windmillers' Trade Fair going on through Saturday at Batavia High School. Windmill enthusiasts from all over the globe will be in attendance to celebrate their love for windmills. Batavia was once known as the windmill capital of the world.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Bill Chidester of Sheridan and his mom, Betty Chidester of Batavia, are seen through a windmill as they take a break during the 24th annual International Windmillers' Trade Fair is going through Saturday at Batavia High School.

       Bill Chidester of Sheridan and his mom, Betty Chidester of Batavia, are seen through a windmill as they take a break during the 24th annual International Windmillers' Trade Fair is going through Saturday at Batavia High School.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
By Hannah Meisel
hmeisel@dailyherald.com

Batavia is going back to its windmilling roots this weekend as upward to 250 windmill enthusiasts converge on the suburb to learn and educate others about all things windmill.

For the first time since 1996, Batavia is hosting the International Windmillers' Trade Fair Thursday through Saturday. Visitors have traveled from all over the country and as far away as Australia to share their love of windmills at the fair, sponsored by historical society members Bob and Francine Popeck of Batavia.

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Windmill parts, replicas and memorabilia litter the parking lot and gym of Batavia High School, all on display for patrons.

Mid-America Windmill Museum volunteer JoAnn Burke is selling T-shirts and knickknacks to fairgoers. She said participating in the annual fairs helps raise awareness of not only her museum in Kendallville, Ind., but of the history of windmills and wind energy.

"A lot of people, children especially, don't understand how water got from the ground," she said. "They're so used to turning a faucet on; they don't realize how it used to be."

Others stalls at the fair echoed this message, coming from as far as Texas to share their history and knowledge of windmills. American Wind Power Center in Lubbock had volunteers on hand to discuss its collection of more than 120 windmills and its newest exhibit, the "Wind Energy Experience Center," which looks to the future of wind energy with respect to its past.

The DuPage County Historical Museum is also present at the fair, trying to both educate and be educated on the role of windmills in the area, said Sara Buttita, museum educator. Next April the museum will display an Early Illinois Folk Art exhibit, showing both functional and decorative artwork. Windmills and weathervanes fit into the functional artwork category, and the Popecks will be involved with the project, donating both time and artifacts to the effort.

At the turn of the century, Batavia was known as the windmill capital of the world, boasting three major windmill companies and three minor ones. Francine Popeck said the rich windmilling history of the city provides a unique backdrop for the fair, which she and her husband also organized in 1996.

"No other city can claim they had six windmill companies," she said.

In the mid-19th Century, windmiller Daniel Halladay was drawn to the Batavia area from Connecticut to build up his windmill business. Halladay founded the United States Wind Engine and Pump Co. in town in 1863. Access to both the Fox River and limestone quarries made his business both necessary and successful. Soon, Halladay took advantage of the railroad industry, selling it windmills to provide water for steam engines.

Halladay's design for the self-regulated windmill also took off, revolutionizing the windmill industry. Francine Popeck has worked to learn the history of Halladay and the other windmill companies in Batavia. One of Halladay's early models of the self-regulated windmill is on display in the entry way of the fair.

The Popecks worked for a year to prepare for the fair, in cooperation with the city of Batavia, the historical society and local schools. As part of continuing the tradition of windmilling in Batavia, Bob Popeck is involved with teaching local third-graders windmilling history. In turn, the work of third-grade art classes is on display for the fair. Popeck said teaching the history of the town to students from Alice Gustafson School, Hoover-Wood Elementary and Louise White School helps to "continue the legacy" of windmilling.

Though Saturday, families can pay $5 for an entrance fee that goes toward the city's windmill maintenance fund, used for the upkeep of the city's 18 windmills. Proceeds from raffling off a windmill-themed quilt will also go toward the fund. At the fair, traders from all over are buying and selling windmill and other Illinois farm tools, as well as selling souvenirs.

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