The Davidson windmill, located along Wisconsin Highway 13, about a 10-minute drive from Superior, is ready for its closeup.
Members of the Old-Brule Heritage Society will hold free tours of the town of Lakeside site from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21. It will also be open for tours during Bayfield Apple Festival Oct. 4-6.
Built by Jacob Tapola Davidson, a Finnish immigrant, it ground grain into animal feed and flour for local farmers from 1904-1926. Its octagonal shape was inspired by a coffee pot that sat on the wood-burning range in his kitchen, according to Davidson’s grandson, Gene. Neighbors pitched in to help with construction, which began in 1900.
The windmill melded Finnish design and folk style to meet a local need, said Jim Pellman with the Old-Brule Heritage Society. When the building’s 17-foot-long sails were turning, it could grind up to 300 pounds of grain an hour, generating about 25 horsepower of energy.
The inside of the structure is both a study in engineering and a walk through Douglas County’s past. All the materials except the steel nails, bolts and sheeting came from the surrounding area.
Two sets of millstones dominate the second floor. The smaller is made of brownstone from the Amnicon Falls State Park area, the same material used to build the base of Fairlawn Mansion. The larger stones, boulders from near Amnicon Falls, are 51 inches in diameter and weigh 3,450 pounds each. One metal piece, a three-arm flange that holds the top stone perfectly flat, was forged at the same Superior shipyard where the SS Meteor was built.
“You’ve got a lot of local history tied up in this building,” Pellman said.
It could have been lost to time. When Gene Davidson returned to Lakeside in 1956 after serving in the U.S. Navy, he was shocked at the windmill’s condition.
“I didn’t think anything could look that bad and still be standing,” he was quoted in Pellman’s book, “The Davidson Windmill.”
Gene Davidson and his father, Bill, embarked on a two-year restoration project that included building a new foundation with creosoted timbers and cables and the replacement of broken sail arms. On Aug. 3, 1979, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The family was approached by Old World Wisconsin about moving the windmill, but Gene Davidson declined.
“He said no, the windmill has to be interpreted where it was used. Otherwise you don’t have a sense of what’s going on,” Pellman said. “It interprets our own history.”
In 2001, Gene Davidson passed the windmill on to the Old-Brule Heritage Society.
“It’s a unique structure in the state,” Pellman said. “We have an obligation to take care of it.”
That includes yearly painting projects and other upkeep, funded by donations and furnished by volunteers. The group opens the building up for free monthly tours over the summer. Donations are accepted; volunteers are needed. In addition, the group is actively seeking artifacts from the area, particularly old records.
“We plan to be here many years,” Pellman said. At 27 years and counting, “We are already part of history."
The windmill site is also home to a Finnish dovetail corner log cabin built in the early 1900s, the Eskolin House, and the last wooden queen-post truss bridge in the state.
Visit the Old Brule Heritage Society site for more information on the windmill and other preservation efforts.
Apple Festival tours take place from 3-6 p.m. Oct. 4, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 5 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 6.