Thursday, September 10, 2015

Robertson's Windmill Flies!

   This was a day I had been waiting years for. On September 8, a windmill flew back onto its post, signaling the start of the end of a long trail. Colonial Williamsburg's famous Robertson's Windmill is finally being restored. 

   Robertson's Windmill was built in 1957 for the 350th anniversary Jamestown celebration, on the corner of Scotland and North England Street. It was based off the 1636 Bourn Mill in England, a post mill. This type of mill is called this because it sits on a post (called the King's Post), and is able to rotate on top of said post to catch whichever way the wind is blowing. Robertson's Windmill became an icon for Colonial Williamsburg, joining ranks with the Governor's Palace and the Capitol. 

   By the mid-1990's, problems had come about. Errors in its original construction were starting to wear away at the mill. It's interior machinery needed fixing. The trees around the site had also grown too big for the wind to reach the sails. The windmill remained open, but it ceased operation.

   It was in this state when I first saw it. On my first time to Colonial Williamsburg, I don't remember much. The Windmill stood out though. It was so cool, so unlike anything I'd seen before outside of a movie, and if you were strong enough [which 9 year-old me was not], you could push it around!

My Mom and I at the Windmill, May 2001

   On January 1, 2004, the mill closed entirely. Talk went on for many years on what to do with the mill. Archaeology was done, but no one could find any remains for the original windmill on the property. The last paper mention of it was in 1723. The current town's interpretation was in the 1770's, with Peyton Randolph owning the property, and no windmill to speak of.

   It was decided the mill was too valuable to destroy, so they decided to move it to Colonial Williamsburg's example of an 18th century farm, Great Hopes Plantation. On August 27, 2010, the mill was driven up the road on a flatbed truck in two pieces. It was done in the middle of the night to have less of an impact on traffic. The plan was to fix and restore the mill in 12-18 months.

   Here's how the windmill looked in 2012:

Windmill in 2012

Windmill in 2012
   The post had been fixed and was ready to go, but no work had been done on fixing the mill portion. In 2014, Colonial Williamsburg received a donation for the Windmill, and work resumed on restoring it.

Windmill Early July 2015

Windmill Late July 2015

Sign in 2012 and 2015. Spot the differences?

   They have added new components on the bottom to make it easier to replace the mill's legs, something that was left out of the 1957 windmill. They left space in the lumber below the King's post legs to compensate for compression created from the weight of the Windmill (28,000 lbs) and its operation. The mill was beating itself up before.

   75-80% of the old wood was reused in the restoration. Visitors will be able to tell what's old and new when they are allowed to step inside. The mill has been repainted a tar color. White would not have made sense on a farm, for white would get dirty very fast.

   All of this brings us to September 8th, mill raising day!

   In the 18th century, a post mill would have been constructed on the post. To put the mill back together, a crane was brought in to sit it back on top again. A GoPro camera was placed inside to chronicle its voyage.

Attaching the hook to the crane

   Once everything was hooked up and latched on, they did some small lifts to make sure the mill was level. When only one side was coming up, they would set it back down, readjust, and try again. Everything was done in the name of safety and precision.

The back is lifting, but not the front.

Once it was level, the mill went flying!

   Much care was taken to line the mill up perfectly. Once the King's Post was in far enough, one worker took a Cherry Picker and hopped inside to help guide the mill into its final position.

   And it's in place!

   The crane arrived around 10:20am. The windmill did not sit down on its post until 12:30. During that time, the crowd did not leave. I did not feel impatient waiting for one moment. It was really exciting to see something so big fly into the air, as well as seeing a missing part of Colonial Williamsburg return.

   The mill still has a ways to go before it is operational again. An October opening is expected. Before then, there will be continued work on the interior mechanisms and the reintroduction of the sails, stairs, and the wheel to make the Windmill spin. A new miller tradesman will have to be hired to work and maintain the mill. 

   All of those trees around the property are going to be cut down to allow for the wind to reach the mill. It will also create an incredible new Windmill vista from the Visitor's Center, ensuring the Windmill will never be forgotten about.

   Now to something being built nearby: On the far side of the Windmill site, they are building a new Lime Kiln. It should be finished and operational next year some time.

   With the restoration of the Windmill, construction of the Lime Kiln, and eventually the building of the Great Hope's Planter's Home, exciting things are definitely coming to Great Hopes Plantation! Check it out next time you visit!

Sources Used:
"Moving Robertson's Windmill" (site will not link it directly, you have to scroll 10 times to the right to get to its vlog)
Construction crew explaining things, 9/8/2015

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