“Everybody Loved It, Everybody Visited It”: The Wilder & Palm Windmill

If you had lived between 1864 and 1905 and heard mention of Lawrence, Kansas, there’s a good chance one image would have sprung to mind: a windmill! But not just any windmill. As shown in our latest exhibit here at the Watkins, the Wilder & Palm Windmill at 9th and Emery Road once stood as a famous symbol of our city.


Landmark History: Images of the Wilder and Palm Windmill–opening soon in our second-floor alcove–recounts the varied ways that people depicted the attraction in art. From models to watercolors and from photographs to newspaper tributes, the “Old Windmill” was clearly an object of veneration.

“Construction began on the windmill on July 1, 1863 and was ongoing at the time of William Quantrill’s destruction of Lawrence,” notes Brittany Keegan, Watkins curator and exhibit designer. “Standing as a large structure on the city’s highest hill, the windmill became a target for the attacking guerillas but was not fully destroyed as result of the raid. As with many citizens of Lawrence, John H. Wilder and Andrew Palm stood steadfast in their desire to build their industry and their lives in Lawrence.”

Swedish laborers completed the windmill in early 1864, and for 21 years it served as “its own industrial power house,” producing grain and powering a plow manufacturing business.


The Wilder & Palm Windmill ceased operating in 1885, but its popularity only grew thereafter. Local families picnicked on the grounds and gazed out on the surrounding countryside from the top floor, while countless artists depicted the landmark in paintings, drawings, and models.

An iconic piece of Lawrence history was lost in March 1905 when the Old Windmill burned down, probably thanks to an unknown visitor’s cigarette.


Two months after the Windmill was destroyed, the Lawrence Jeffersonian Gazette recalled: “Everybody loved it, everybody visited it, everybody remembered it. Two thousand miles from Lawrence, even on the other side of the world, the man from Lawrence would be met with the question “Is the Old Windmill there yet?””

The Old Windmill is no longer there, but our latest exhibit demonstrates that its memory lives on. Visit us to learn more about this Lawrence Landmark.

Wintry, Wondrous Lawrence

Lately we’ve been having unseasonably warm and un-holiday-like weather in Douglas County. So we of the Watkins staff have made it our mission to help our supporters get in the holiday spirit! To that end, enjoy these photographs from our collections of Lawrence winters past.



Just some Lawrence kids having fun in South Park behind the Courthouse, 1920’s or ’30’s.


Arlene Roberts enjoying snow behind the Unitarian Church near South Park, early 1900s.



Four stylish skiers, including Nell Dehart Weaver and A. B. Weaver (right), 1920s.



Green Bros. Hardware, 1920.



The famous Wilder & Palm Grist Mill, 1900-1905.



Backyard scene at 1307 New Hampshire Street, March 1912.



Banks house, 1345 Tennessee, early 1900s.



C. D. Bunker wood chopping.


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Mass Street after a heavy snowfall, early 1900s.


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Mister Guy on Mass Street on a snowy day, 1965.


Richard Shanafelt skating on the Kaw, ca. 1935-45.



Christmas display at Haskell Institute.



F. W. Barteldes takes his twin granddaughters for a sleigh ride, January 1925.

Big Changes in Store!

Here at the Watkins, we we not only teach history, we make history. As many of you are aware, the Watkins building has been a Lawrence fixture since 1888, when an ambitious businessman named J. B. Watkins built a large, eye-catching home for his bank and land mortgage company. Later, the Watkins building served as City Hall before reopening as a museum in 1975.

You may also have noticed that we’ve substantially altered the visitor experience over the past few years, rotating exhibits, hosting a wide range of programming, and in general evolving into a dynamic and visitor-friendly institution. And the results of these improvements and the tremendous support of our community have been encouraging: attendance has increased 300% since 2010!

And things are only getting better. For instance, the next time you visit the Watkins you’ll see several large panels on the staircase walls, each of them opening a window onto a particular aspect of Douglas County’s past.

New Douglas County history panels above the staircase.

But these new panels are only a sneak preview! On December 6, we’ll close the third floor for renovations and installations that will further enhance the Watkins visitor experience next year. Among these changes will be restorations to a staple attraction, our 1870’s playhouse.


Of course, none of this would be possible without community support. So thanks for your interest in the best–but constantly improving–local history museum around!