9. The Iconic Windmill of Blawenburg
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
The windmill pictured is from the 1960s when Broad View Farm (Van Zandt farm) had an International Harvester dealership. Note the height of the windmill and the reservoir for the water that it pumped from beneath the ground. The dealership is now the Elks Lodge on Route 518.
Windmills have had a long and important history. They serve the purpose of converting energy from one form to another so that it can be used for a specific purpose. On farms in previous centuries, that purpose was to convert wind energy to mechanical energy to do work. Early windmills used wind power to turn millstones to grind grain into flour. This replaced the effort of animals and humans. A more common use for windmills on farms was to draw water from wells, again replacing human labor with wind power. On some farms, the windmills were not set to convert wind. Instead, they helped farmers by telling them the direction and velocity of the wind so they could predict the weather. You could think of them as the Weather Channel of yore.
The Broad View Farm, owned and managed by J. Percy Van Zandt for much of the 20th century, had a windmill that served as a means of pumping water for use on the farm. The windmill sat near the barn, which is now the Elks’ Lodge, and it was Percy’s pride and joy, according to his nephew, Bill Van Zandt. Percy took care of it like it was part of the family, tending to it daily. It has been reported that he climbed the ladder to check on it when he was in his 80s, despite family disapproval.
This picture of the windmill was taken for the Blawenburg Village nomination to the National Historic Register in 1984. Note the ladder on the barn side of the windmill for access to the mechanisms at the top.
Photo credit: Clem Fiori
Richard Van Zandt, Percy’s grandson, recently sent his recollections of the iconic windmill.
The Aermotor windmill that was on Broad View Farm
High Gear, Low Gear
By Richard Van Zandt
Many who read this will remember the J. Percy Van Zandt Company (farm supplies and equipment) that influenced much of the daily activities in Blawenburg from the early 20th century until 1969, when it closed its doors for good. Like most people during that period in Blawenburg, the company got its water supply from a well on the property. However, what was unique about this well was that it had a very large windmill on top of it, probably 40 or 50 feet high. The middle of it held a large wooden cylindrical tank. Inside the tank was a wooden float tied to a rope that extended up to and over the top edge of the tank to the other end on the outside, which held a weight. I remember the weight as just an old gear, probably from an early tractor, and certainly not the high-tech sensors we have today in our houses and cars.
When the wind on the "Blawenburg ridge" was strong, that gear would drop all the way down to the bottom of the tank (as the float inside was raised to the top of the tank when it became full of water). Since the windmill supplied a number of buildings, barns, houses, and apartments on the property, it was critical that the tank remain full of water 24/7; and this gear at the bottom was a good thing to see. But occasionally when the wind went slack, no water would be pumped and the gear would be visible right at the top of the tank.
I remember many evenings after dinner walking with my grandfather (Percy) or father (John) to the windmill to check on the position of the gear. When the water was low, they would disconnect the long pump rod at the bottom of the windmill (which extended from deep in the ground all the way up to the large wheel at the top) and then connect it to a small electric motor. After the motor was turned on, we would stand for a while and watch what happened to that gear. As it dropped down the side of the tank, we became satisfied that water was flowing and all was well again!
The windmill was disassembled in the early 1990s, trucked to the New Jersey Museum of Agriculture at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, and then reassembled in front of the New Jersey Museum of Agriculture. It was dedicated to Percy.
Windmill quilt from the NJ Museum of Agriculture
In Memory of J. Percy Van Zandt
The NJ Museum of Agriculture with the iconic Van Zandt windmill (without the water reservoir) prominently on display.
This plaque was next to the windmill at the NJ Museum of Agriculture. It says,
Windmill Tower Erected 1905. Aermotor Head Installed 1920. Pumped water for dairy/poultry family farm and farm equipment dealership for seventy five years at Broad View Farm, Blawenburg, Somerset County, New Jersey. Donated by the Van Zandt Family in memory of J. Percy Van Zandt, 1895 – 1987. Graduate of all Rutgers Short Courses, Farmer, Pioneer in Farm Mechanization
The museum opened its doors in 1990 and was located on the campus of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers. Unfortunately, the museum was closed in 2011 due to state budget cuts. The windmill, which once was visible from Route 1, is no longer there.
Where’s the Windmill?
If you know where the iconic windmill of Blawenburg was relocated, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will resume the blog in early January by continuing the Nevius/Van Zandt farm story with the establishment of a model farm in the 20th century.
Photo credit: Except for the 1984 photo by Clem Fiori, all photos in this bog were shared by Richard Van Zandt from the Van Zandt family photos.
Recollection of Richard Van Zandt