Spokane Valley was known for its apple orchards and farms until the 1960s. Windmills flew above many of the farms, pumping water to the families living there.
“They were the icon of the farms,” said Jayne Singleton, director of Spokane Valley Heritage Museum.
To celebrate this symbol of the area’s agricultural past, the museum has added its own windmill to its outdoor exhibits.
The working windmill was built in the 1930s by the Fairbury Windmill Co. in Nebraska. Singleton isn’t sure if it was used in the Valley.
An anonymous donor gave the windmill to the museum in 2008, Singleton said. Since then, it has made appearances at the museum’s annual farm show, but has mostly been in storage.
A patch of concrete was laid in the museum’s backyard last week and the windmill was installed Tuesday. It now stands 33 feet tall and also serves as a landmark for the museum.
The 8-B Hel-i-cut windmill is self-oiling. Before this kind of technology, farmers had to climb the windmill’s tower to oil the machinery and keep it moving.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” she said of the windmill.
Storyboards describe the importance of windmills and how they work. There is also information which compares windmills from yesteryear with new, modern ones you may see along the Columbia River, and about the area’s aquifer.
She said the windmills were critical for farmers to pump water prior to indoor plumbing. Water would be pumped into a cistern or a holding tank. Farmers would collect water from there and bring pails inside.
Several factors lead to decline in windmill use, Singleton said, including the Rural Electrification Administration, part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which brought electricity to the area, providing power for water pumps. Scrap metal drives during World War II and the area’s transition from an agricultural community to an urban one diminished the need for windmills.