Windmills of California

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

There are 2 traditional "Dutch style" windmills in Golden Gate Park, located at the western end to catch the ample sea breezes.

The Dutch Windmill

The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, at a cost of $16,000, together with a Dutch Cottage alongside which was occupied by the mill's caretaker. 75 feet high, and 33 feet in diameter at the base, is sails had a span of 102 feet and meant it was capable of pumping 30,000 gallons of fresh water per hour from underground to a reservoir on Strawberry Hill.

Despite being a great success for a few years (so much so that a second windmill was built), by 1913 electric pumps were introduced, so the windmills began to become obsolete. Much of the Dutch Mill's machinery was destroyed by a storm in the 1930's, followed by further gutting to aid the 2nd World War effort. In the winter of 1949 one of the sails was blown off, and a few months later the other 3 sails were removed for safety.

A Citizens Commission formed in 1964 to start efforts to restore the mills, but despite receiving a Federal grant of $10,000 in 1968, it was not until August 1976 that volunteers from the US Navy Reserve started work on restoring the Dutch Mill. Work continued through to completion in 1981. Since then little additional work has been done, and although, as the many photos of the mill show, from the exterior the mill looks impressive, structurally it's showing signs of decay again.

At the base of the mill, the grounds have been laid out as the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden - a fact that contributes to the popularity of the mill as a photo location. It's also given rise to the often repeated, but false story that the mill "was a gift to the city of San Francisco from Holland"!

Point to note: Looking at historical pictures of the mill, it's apparent that the "restored" mill's sails rotate in the opposite direction to the original sails!

Golden Gate 1940's Golden Gate Dutch Mill
The Dutch Mill - Circa 1940's hand coloured print, and 1999

The Murphy Windmill

With the undoubted success of the Dutch Mill, in 1905 a second windmill was built to the south, known as the Murphy Windmill, after Samuel G Murphy who donated $20,000 (one source says $25,000) for its construction. This mill was even larger than the first, 95 feet high, with sails 114 feet across, capable of pumping 40,000 gallons per hour, and survived slightly longer before electric pumps were installed.

Sadly this mill was never restored, and through to the early 2000's stood sailless and neglected, slowly deteriorating. The Murphy Windmill has a concrete base, which was surmounted by a slate clad wooden upper body, and each year more slates fell from the mill. The remains of the sails were stacked in the undergrowth nearby.

Finally plans to restore the mill came about, and the mill was dismantled right back to the concrete base. Parts were shipped to millwrights in the Netherlands, and everything was due to be reassembled on site in 2006 (though I have been unable to determine if that has happened or not).

Details on the restoration project are to be found at The Campaign to Save the Golden Gate Windmills.

Despite the many web sites with photos of the Dutch Mill, far fewer people put up pictures of the forlorn Murphy windmill.

A question and answer led me to the news that the mill appears in the 1915 Charlie Chaplin movie "A Jitney Elopement", and so you can see it in stills from the movie. Also compare a still to a recent image.

Murphy windmill historic postcard
Murphy Windmill, published by Chas.Weidner No.271, Germany.

Murphy Windmill, Golden Gate Park Murphy Windmill, Golden Gate Park Murphy Windmill, Golden Gate Park
The Murphy Windmill - As it was in 1999.

Altamont Pass

Altamont Pass is host to over 6000 wind turbines of all shapes and sizes. Many of them were constructed under a Californian tax regime which made building them very worthwhile, though since those days, not all of the turbines are maintained in working order. Even so, there are still many making a real contribution to California's energy needs, and even some replacement of old models with new, more efficient ones.

Given a good breeze, the sight of the hillside covered as far as the eye can see with twirling turbines makes a very impressive sight.

Panoramic view of one part of Altamont Pass - large image!



Mock mills (buildings shaped like traditional mills, but never put to traditional grinding or pumping uses) Windpumps Wind Energy

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Last updated 03/03/2017 Text and images © Mark Berry, 1997-2017 -