A Brief History
Hinrich Reemts (“H. R.”) Emminga (1829-1886) built the Prairie Mills Windmill in 1872. Mr. Emminga was born in the Holtrop-Wiesens area of Ostfriesland (meaning “East Friesia”) in Northwest Germany. Trained as a millwright in Germany, Mr. Emminga immigrated to the Golden area in February 1852.
By 1854 Mr. Emminga completed the “Custom Mill” located approximately 1.5 miles northeast of Golden. This was the first of three windmills built by Emminga. He was 25 years old at its completion and he operated it for nine years.
In 1863 Mr. Emminga sold the Custom Windmill and returned to Germany with his family. The John Franzen family purchased the Custom Windmill and continued milling with it until around 1930. Henry Bruns purchased the Custom Windmill soon after and razed it in 1934.
After returning to Germany Mr. Emminga began constuction of his second windmill in Felde, completed it in 1866 and operated it for the next five years. This mill still stands and is nearly identical in size and construction to the Prairie Mills windmill.
In 1872 the Emmingas returned to Golden and immediately began building the “Prairie Mill.” After purchasing the land in June, construction began on August 11, 1872 and was completed by August 1873 with two sets of millstones. Milling operations began on September 1, 1873 (see journal entry). Mr. Emminga installed a third set of millstones in August 1874.
Instead of cash, Mr. Emminga received a percentage of the grain from the farmer as his milling fee.
He received one pound of corn for every five pounds that the farmer brought in. For smaller grains (wheat, buckwheat, rye and graham) he received one pound of grain for every six pounds brought in. He would then grind this grain and sell the flour.
In its early days, Prairie Mill stone-ground flour products were exported around the world. In 1874 Prairie Mill flour even won first prize in a St. Louis competition for the best flour on the market.
Mr. Emminga operated the Prairie Mill until the fall of 1878 when he sold it to his son, Harm H.Emminga and returned to Germany where he lived until his death on November 23, 1886. H. H. Emminga operated the windmill until his death on December 9, 1915, when his son, John Jacob Emminga, took over.
By the 1880s more reliable steam engines and the “roller process” of milling wheat made possible significant increases in the quantity and quality of wheat flour. In 1889 H. H. Emminga built the “New Era” steam mill across the road at the site of the present grain elevator and used it to mill wheat flour. The Prairie Mill continued to mill corn meal and specialty flours from buckwheat and graham.
On March 1, 1922 Mr. Emminga and F. B. Franzen (grandson of the original purchaser of the Custom Mill) combined the Prairie Mill and the Custom Mill to become the Consolidated Cereal Company. Emminga sold his interest in the company on March 1, 1923.
The Prairie Mill continued to operate as a wind-powered mill until 1924 after a storm tore off two of the four sails. After this storm Franzen modified the windmill to operate using a 30-horespower gasoline engine. Milling continued under gasoline power until approximately 1930 when all operations ceased.
The windmill then had several owners who used the mill as a supper club, home, and tavern. The doors closed for good in the early 1980's. The mill quickly deteriorated.
Instead of cash, Mr. Emminga received a percentage of the grain from the farmer as his milling fee. In 1986 local citizens in and around Golden organized the Golden Historical Society to purchase and restore the mill. In 1995 the Society acquired the services of Derek Ogden, a world-renowned millwright, to lead the restoration. Restoration began in 1996. According to Mr. Ogden, "The construction of the Prairie Mills Windmill is of a very high standard , both structurally and mechanically. The machinery in this windmill is one of the finest I have seen in the United States of America and certainly up to the highest standard I have seen in Europe."
Although there were serious structural problems with the tower, the mechanism remained largely untouched and undamaged for over 70 years. Major renovation projects included:
* Lifting the mill tower and replacing the rock foundation with a concrete foundation.
* Replacing all rotted tower framing and siding.
* Replacing the tower cap, tail pole and stage.
* Building and installation of new sails and sail shutters.
* Rebuilding the East and North wings.
The society successfully ground grain with the Prairie Mill for the first time in 2002. Work continues on the North Wing which was where wagons of grain and flour were weighed and loaded or unloaded. The restoration was completed in 2004. The mill now appears and operates as it did in its prime condition of 1890.
The "Custom Mill"
This photo shows the “Custom Mill,” the first of three windmills built by Mr. H. R. Emminga. The 1872 Adams County Atlas map below shows the location of the Custom Mill.
Mr. Emminga and his family arrived in Golden in February 1852. Soon after building his house and barn, construction began on the Custom Mill. He completed it on June 5, 1854. Emminga was 25 years old at its completion.
Shipment of the grindstones for the Custom Mill posed unique challenges. The grindstones came from a quarry in the Eiffel region in Germany. They were shipped by boat to New Orleans and up the Mississippi River to Quincy. Since the railway between Golden and Quincy wasn’t complete until 1855, Mr. Emminga used a specially-built oxen cart and ten oxen to carry the millstones from Quincy to Golden. It took four days on dirt roads to make the 60-mile round trip.
In 1860, Mr. Emminga rebuilt the windmill on top of the building shown. This raised the sails 12 feet to catch the wind better. He operated it until 1863 when he sold it his wife’s uncle, John Franzen. Except for a five-year period between 1870-1875 when Peter Osterman operated it, the Franzen family owned and operated the Custom Mill until the mid-1920s and specialized in buckwheat grinding.>In latter years, a gasoline engine replaced wind as the power source. The Franzens sold the mill in the 1930s to Henry Bruns who razed it in 1934.
The approximate current address for the location of the Custom Mill is: 2470 E 2700th St.
The "Prairie Mill"
The photo above shows the “Prairie Mill,” the third and final windmill built by Mr. H. R. Emminga. It was probably taken around 1910. Shutters have been installed on the sails, replacing the sailcloth that Mr. Emminga originally used to catch the wind.
The original Prairie Mill consisted of the mill tower and three wings. The North wing housed Mr. Emminga’s office, the loading bay and the wagon scale. In this picture, the horses are pulling a wagon onto the scale. The East wing and West wing (not visible) were used to store grain and flour.
On arrival, the loaded wagon would be driven onto the scale for weighing, then moved to the loading bay to unload the grain. The empty wagon was then weighed to determine the amount of grain received. Mr. Emminga kept a percentage of the grain as payment. After milling, the customer would receive the flour and the bran.
At one time Golden had three operating windmills. The 1872 Adams County Atlas map below shows the location of the Prairie Mill (1873-1935) , the Custom Mill (1854-1930, the first windmill built by Mr. Emminga) and Gronewold’s Mill(1865-???). The Custom Mill is the only one marked on the atlas.
Located on the northwest corner of Golden, the Gronewold Mill was much smaller than the Prairie Mill. It had only a 20-foot diameter sail compared to a 70-foot diameter sail on the Prairie Mill. The Gronewold Mill was used exclusively to grind livestock feed.
"New Era" Steam Mill
In 1889, H. H. Emminga built the “New Era” steam mill across the street from the Prairie Mills Windmill. The steam mill could operate continuously unless wheat was unavailable and could mill up to 200 barrels of wheat flour per day.
By the 1880s, milling and steam engine technology both matured which greatly increased the milling capacity. Rollers were used instead of millstones to separate the flour from the bran. “Purifier” and “dresser” machines sifted and finished the flour. Six “packer” machines packed flour and bran into barrels or into 25-pound to 140-pound sacks.
A 90-horsepower steam-fed Corliss engine provided constant, reliable power that eliminated the need to wait for the wind.
The New Era Mill milled only wheat flour. The Prairie Mills Windmill continued milling specialty grains such as buckwheat, corn meal and rye until ceasing all operations in the 1930s.
The first photo (above left) shows the New Era steam mill soon after its construction around 1890. The smaller building housed the steam boiler and the engine. The second photo (above right) was probably taken around 1900 and shows an expansion of the steam engine building, enclosing the area around the engine’s exhaust stack. Also visible is an early railroad signal. Note that additional wires have been installed on the telephone poles.
The New Era Mill continued flour milling operations until sometime around World War II. After that, the building continued to be used to handle grain and process livestock feed for the Golden Elevator and Dearwester Grain Services. The building was razed in 2011.