Heritage; It’s a word that conjures emotions such as pride, love and wonder. Some long to hold on to that, others not so much. As a child, I roamed the docile streets of a small town known as Forestville, oblivious to the fact that my great, great grandfather was cofounder of that town. There were no obvious signs that my German ancestor was first to settle there. Of course, the church in Forestville was Lutheran and many epitaphs in the local cemetery bore the maiden name of my grandmother. I guess those should have been some hints, but I was a kid and just didn’t think about things like that.
I make mention of this because I believe there are a lot of Midwestern towns who are endanger of losing that original identity. With people leaving for careers in other states and the ingress of others, nationalities mingle, mix and become genuinely American. If not denoted by a symbol, marker or some research, the towns roots will become a mystery over the course of time.
Of course, if you live in Wisconsin and come from a town like Luxemburg, Berlin, Brussels or Denmark you probably have a pretty good inkling where the settlers came from. Yet other towns may not be that easy. A town like Little Chute, Wisconsin, even if you had a working knowledge of French, would totally throw you off.
Although Father Jaques Marquette first visited the area in the 17th century, followed by other French explorers and fur traders who named the area La Petite Chute(the little rapids), the town did not become a permanent European settlement until 1848. That year, A Dutch priest known as Father Van den Broek brought three boats worth of Netherlands citizens to the area. The name changed to Little Chute and those people lived their remaining days in the town, which now has a population of over 10,000 people.
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. I’ll tell you. The descendants of those immigrants, many who attend the very same church as those courageous souls, wanted something that screamed Dutch in the town with the curious English/French title; something built in Holland that would be distinctly recognized as Old World Dutch. You guessed it. They erected an authentic windmill, constructed originally in Holland, and placed it right on Main Street.
I pull into a fairly small parking lot, as a towering wood windmill makes an imposition on this modest skyline. The brake is on and the sails are not turning, but the example of antique machinery still appears impressive. Its old world charm doesn’t appear that out of place here in this downtown setting, although it’s definitely not your typical midwestern town structure.
As I enter the street side entrance, I discover three elderly gentlemen waiting for someone to come along. I pay my six dollars, wait for a few others to show and watch an introductory film.
I learn a little bit about what I am about to see. This windmill is used to grind hard shell wheat from North Dakota into flour. When I do more research after my visit, I find that the original purpose of windmills in Holland was to pump water in the lowlands to nearby rivers. Of course, over the years, Windmills have had other uses such as sawmills and the like.
This windmill is rarely used because a licensed miller must operate it. Certification is granted by an individual from Holland. Yes, this is completely genuine and authentic, constructed of 16 varieties of wood by fifth generation Windmill builders. It may be aged only 5 years, but as I climb the 48 stairs to the inner heart of this beast, I’m left to marvel at technology of a different century.
The timbers, without the aid of nails, bind together in a giant solitary mechanism that serves a purpose that can still be appreciated today. Some wood is imported from places like Africa, because of it’s rot resistant qualities. Of course, at this mill’s core is a weighty millstone. As I inspect this piece of machinery, I can’t believe it’s been used at all. It looks brand spanking new.
After seeing the mill’s innards,We’re allowed to walk on the deck of the mill. We check out the Sails, the apparatus that turns the wind-shaft into the wind and the view.
It’s here that the tour ends. I’d guess it took half an hour. I learned some bits about this Dutch community, the efforts of the Little Chute Historical Society, and, of course, how an Old World Dutch windmill looks, feels, and works. The guide may be a bit dry, however, he’s incredibly knowledgeable. Anybody touring this symbol of the Dutch will walk away with new knowledge.
After the tour, our group moseys on towards the interpretive center. I find a couple cases of artifacts, a spinning wheel and a smoking table. The latter I had to inquire about, which was met with “That’s a smoking table.” as if I must have arrived from some other planet. ‘How did I not know that?!’
As I leave, I feel assured that those passing through Little Chute, and those who live here in future years, will know this community was founded by the Dutch. The Windmill on Main Street is not just a hint, its a bold statement. If those who see it do not make the connection, I’m sure they’ll ask “Why is there a Dutch Windmill in Little Chute?”