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.