The facility is the only outdoor windmill museum in the nation.
KENDALLVILLE, Ind. (AP) -- At the Mid-America Windmill Museum, 50 windmills perched atop a hill squeak and groan as the breeze spins their blades.
To Russ Baker, who helped found the museum, the noise is a sort of song about a piece of U.S. history.
Windmills were an essential part of daily life for many of the nation's early residents. They helped Colonial farmers grind grain and gave pioneers a way to pump water along trails, rail lines and new farmland.
"The cattle drives followed the rail routes because there were windmills and water along the way," said Jerry Stienbarger, a member of the museum's board of directors.
Farmers relied on the power of wind during much of the 20th century as well. But today, many windmills stand unused and deteriorating in fields -- a situation the museum is trying to rectify.
With the help of volunteers, who raised money and cleared brush, the museum opened in 1996 with a handful of restored windmills on the edge of this town about 150 miles east of Chicago. Today, the 40-acre site features 50 windmills, some from as far away as Arizona. It also hosts an annual Windmill Festival, set for June 24 to 26.
The location of the museum, which touts itself as the only one in the nation to display windmills outdoors, was no accident, said Baker, president of the museum's board.
Nearly 90 windmill manufacturers operated within an 80-mile radius of Kendallville during two centuries, mostly in the late 1800s. One of the biggest, Flint & amp; Walling, is in Kendallville, where the company today makes water pumps.
Kendallville's wind-powered legacy is an outgrowth of the German, English and Ukrainian immigrants who settled in northeastern Indiana, southern Michigan and northwestern Ohio, Baker said. Many of them were top mechanics who went into business making and repairing windmills.
The region also had an abundance of white oak, yellow poplar and hickory trees that were commonly used to make windmill frames before metal windmills became the standard.
That history is showcased in the windmills on display.
The largest is a replica of a wooden English-style windmill built in 1620 in Virginia. The windmill was built on site using blueprints from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and was completed in late 2002. Nearby is a wooden barn that was built in the 1880s and moved onto the museum's grounds.
The museum also has a collection of another 50 windmills offsite. Those windmills are gradually being restored, with a goal of putting between five and 10 on display each year.
Last summer, the museum dedicated a newly restored windmill that was the same model as one located on the Arizona cattle ranch where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor grew up. The judge and her brother H. Alan Day, who together wrote a best-selling memoir, "Lazy B," about growing up on the ranch, attended the windmill dedication at the museum.
Museum organizers say they'll continue scouring fields across America for windmills to add to the collection.
"There are people who are retired who do nothing but go out in the countryside looking for old windmill parts," Baker said.
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