The Prairie Mills

Golden, Illinois

A Brief History

In 1863 Mr. Emminga sold the Custom Windmill and returned to Germany with his family.  The John Franzen family purchased the Custom Windmill and continued milling with it until around 1930.  Henry Bruns purchased the Custom Windmill soon after and razed it in 1934.


After returning to Germany Mr. Emminga began constuction of his second windmill in Felde, completed it in 1866 and operated it for the next five years.  This mill still stands and is nearly identical in size and construction to the Prairie Mills windmill.


In 1872 the Emmingas returned to Golden and immediately began building the “Prairie Mill.”  After purchasing the land in June, construction began on August 11, 1872 and was completed by August 1873 with two sets of millstones.  Milling operations began on September 1, 1873 (see journal entry shown below)Mr. Emminga installed a third set of millstones in August 1874.


Hinrich Reemts (“H. R.”) Emminga (1829-1886) built the Prairie Mills Windmill in 1872.  Mr. Emminga was born in the Holtrop-Wiesens area of Ostfriesland (meaning “East Friesia”) in Northwest Germany.  Trained as a millwright in Germany, Mr. Emminga immigrated to the Golden area in February 1852.


By 1854 Mr. Emminga completed the “Custom Mill” located approximately 1.5 miles northeast of Golden.  This was the first of three windmills built by Emminga.  He was 25 years old at its completion and he operated it for nine years.

Instead of cash, Mr. Emminga received a percentage of the grain from the farmer as his milling fee.  He received one pound of corn for every five pounds that the farmer brought in.  For smaller grains (wheat, buckwheat, rye and graham) he received one pound of grain for every six pounds brought in.  He would then grind this grain and sell the flour.


In its early days, Prairie Mill stone-ground flour products were exported around the world.  In 1874 Prairie Mill flour even won first prize in a St. Louis competition for the best flour on the market.


Mr. Emminga operated the Prairie Mill until the fall of 1878 when he sold it to his son, Harm H.

Emminga and returned to Germany where he lived until his death on November 23, 1886.  H. H. Emminga operated the windmill until his death on December 9, 1915, when his son, John Jacob Emminga, took over.


By the 1880s more reliable steam engines and the “roller process” of milling wheat made possible significant increases in the quantity and quality of wheat flour.  In 1889 H. H. Emminga built the “New Era” steam mill across the road at the site of the present grain elevator and used it to mill wheat flour.  The Prairie Mill continued to mill corn meal and specialty flours from buckwheat and graham.


On March 1, 1922 Mr. Emminga and F. B. Franzen (grandson of the original purchaser of the Custom Mill) combined the Prairie Mill and the Custom Mill to become the Consolidated Cereal Company.  Emminga sold his interest in the company on March 1, 1923.


The Prairie Mill continued to operate as a wind-powered mill until 1924 after a storm tore off two of the four sails.  After this storm Franzen modified the windmill to operate using a 30-horespower gasoline engine.  Milling continued under gasoline power until approximately 1930 when all operations ceased.


The windmill then had several owners who used the mill as a supper club, home, and tavern.  The doors closed for good in the early 1980's.  The mill quickly deteriorated.


The restoration:


In 1986 local citizens in and around Golden organized the Golden Historical Society to purchase and restore the mill.  In 1995 the Society acquired the services of Derek Ogden, a world-renowned millwright, to lead the restoration.  Restoration began in 1996.  According to Mr. Ogden, "The construction of the Prairie Mills Windmill is of a very high standard , both structurally and mechanically. The machinery in this windmill is one of the finest I have seen in the United States of America and certainly up to the highest standard I have seen in Europe."


Although there were serious structural problems with the tower, the mechanism remained largely untouched and undamaged for over 70 years.  Major renovation projects included:


     * Lifting the mill tower and replacing the rock foundation with a concrete foundation.

     * Replacing all rotted tower framing and siding.

     * Replacing the tower cap, tail pole and stage.

     * Building and installation of new sails and sail shutters.

     * Rebuilding the East and North wings.


The society successfully ground grain with the Prairie Mill for the first time in 2002.  Work continues on the North Wing which was where wagons of grain and flour were weighed and loaded or unloaded.  The restoration was completed in 2004.  The mill now appears and operates as it did in its prime condition of 1890.


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