Kane County History: Batavia, IL — 'Windmill Capital of The World'

Kane County History: Batavia, IL — ‘Windmill Capital of The World’

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s post was submitted by Jennifer Putzier, executive director of the Batavia Depot Museum.

Did you know that Batavia was once the Windmill Capital of the World?

Modern windmill history starts in 1854 when John Burnham, a pump repairman, approached Daniel Halladay, a mechanic, to create a self-governing windmill. Prior to this time, windmills needed to be manually turned and adjusted to catch the wind and to keep the blades moving at a steady speed.

After successfully testing and applying for a patent, Halladay, Burnham and a third partner, Henry McCray, began large-scale manufacture of the Halladay Windmills in Connecticut. Early in the business, they realized greater profits were to be made out west; good, fresh water was necessary for trains to keep steam engine boilers running efficiently.

John Burnham moved to Chicago in 1857 to expand the western market, and he became acquainted with John VanNortwick and other local Batavians. Batavia was by then a thriving town of 2,000, and had several advantages for industry; a river for power, plenty of limestone for cheap building material, and easy access to a rail line.

A new company was formed in Batavia in 1863: the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company.

John Van Nortwick, John Burnham and Daniel Halladay were at the helm. They purchased the Halladay Wind Mill Company and moved the manufacturing operations to Batavia.

U. S. Wind Engine and Pump continued producing windmills under the Halladay name until 1924.

Seeing the success of Halladay and the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company, other windmill and windmill related companies sprouted up in Batavia. In 1867, the Challenge Mill Company was founded. Appleton Manufacturing relocated to Batavia in 1894.

Batavia-made windmills could be spotted all over the world.

Today, you can still see locally made windmills dotted all over Batavia, a testament to hometown pride. The greatest concentration is along the River Walk and Depot Pond, and inside the Batavia Depot Museum you can see salesman’s samples from various windmill companies on display in the exhibit Little Town in the Big Woods.

The Depot reopened for the season March 5, 2018. Hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

About the Batavia Depot Museum

The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a partnership between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854, and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place.

Read The Kane County History Series!