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Article updated: 9/14/2013 5:09 PM

Batavia's windmills named engineering landmark

Hugh Cole of Wilmette, foreground, looks at a display of historic windmill artifacts on Saturday at the Batavia Public Library. Next to him is Dick Riseling, a Batavia native who now lives in New York. Both men attended a ceremony that designated Batavia’s windmill collection as an engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Hugh Cole of Wilmette, foreground, looks at a display of historic windmill artifacts on Saturday at the Batavia Public Library. Next to him is Dick Riseling, a Batavia native who now lives in New York. Both men attended a ceremony that designated Batavia's windmill collection as an engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

 

Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke, left, and Victoria Rockwell, past president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, shake hands after the unveiling of a commemorative plaque designating Batavia’s windmills as an engineering landmark in a ceremony held Saturday at the Batavia Public Library.

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke, left, and Victoria Rockwell, past president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, shake hands after the unveiling of a commemorative plaque designating Batavia's windmills as an engineering landmark in a ceremony held Saturday at the Batavia Public Library.

 

Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

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Batavia has always known its windmills were special, but now the whole world knows, too.

The town's 17 authentically reconstructed windmills were designated a landmark of engineering history by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in a ceremony Saturday morning at the Batavia Public Library.

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The windmills, produced between 1863 and 1951 in Batavia, joined 253 artifacts throughout the world that have been designated as landmarks by ASME. Others include Ford Motor Co.'s Model T car and Japan's Shinkansen, the world's first high-speed railway system.

"The city of Batavia has done a phenomenal job in preserving the original machines created in Batavia, and we're just delighted to be a small part of that," said Thomas Fehring, vice chair of ASME's history and heritage committee.

The ceremony kicked off the daylong Batavia Windmill Symposium, which included lectures about Aermotor, a windmill company started by pioneers whose careers began at Batavia's U.S. Wind Engine, and the windmill industry's economic impact on Batavia in the late 1800s.

Batavia resident David Helfers missed the morning ceremony but looked forward to a talk by windmill historian T. Lindsay Baker about Batavia's significance in American windmill history.

"Windmills in this town have always been of interest because of their history," he said. "I love looking at them."

Batavia's location along the Fox River and railroad lines attracted several windmill companies after it was founded in 1833, Mayor Jeff Schielke said. All those industries left after World War II, he said.

"This is a special legacy that hopefully future generations of the community can admire and learn from," he said.

Most of the landmark windmills stand in downtown Batavia, but JoAnn Smith especially likes the ones along Randall Road.

"You drive by and you see all those modern buildings and big-box stores, and then you see one of these old windmills. It's a nice contrast."

The landmark designation "is a tremendous accomplishment for Batavia," said Dick Riseling, a Batavia native who now lives in New York.

Windmills are not just a thing of the past, Riseling said. "There is no future for this country if we don't get rid of our fuel addiction," he said. "We have to develop renewable energy."

The idea of holding the windmill symposium came about last year, when Batavia hosted the International Windmillers' Trade Fair, said Francine McGuire-Popeck, a member of the Batavia Historical Society.

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the first windmills' installation downtown, she said.

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