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Dutch specialists rebuild San Francisco’s Murphy windmill

‘Largest of its kind in the world’

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

HOOGMADE, the Netherlands The famed Murphy windmill, one of two such structures in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, these days is but a mere shell of its glorious former self. Built in 1905, the windmill’s cap for the past two years has been under restoration at the shop of Hoogmade windmill expert Lucas Verbij. Additional safety concerns and municipal requirements have delayed the job’s completion. The shipping date of the cap and arms to San Francisco is envisioned for December 2004.

The process of restoring the Murphy Windmill began in 1993. The building, a gift of local banker Samuel G. Murphy, was erected to supply much needed water 40,000 gallons an hour to the rapidly developing Golden Gate park. In 2002, the 30 metres tall mill, the dome clad in copper, was disassembled, and the cap shipped to Hoogmade, a village just east of the city of Leiden. Verbij has been instrumental in building or restoring a number of Dutch windmills, both at home and abroad (such as in Holland, Michigan, Pella, Iowa and in countries such as Japan).

Restoration of the base of the windmill has been done in San Francisco itself. Verbij has been asked however to supervise the entire project before assembly can be done. Some of the new requirements of the municipality of San Francisco, which owns the mill, deal with public safety issues and liability insurance. This required Verbij to redesign some of the features of the windmill, which since its construction had problems operating. Around 1950, the sails were disassembled, long after it had stopped being an operational windmill.

American ingenuity

The arms of the windmill are almost 17 metres each and were made from single Oregon pine logs. New sails will be installed to make the windmill fully operational again. The interior will be opened up for the public to view the working parts of this unique windmill. City elders in San Francisco hope that the restored and operational Murphy windmill will be ready by the summer of 2005 when the city hosts an international conference on the environment.

Fortified by American ingenuity, gears of the windmill were made from cast iron, unlike windmills in the Netherlands where gears historically were made from wood. In Hoogmade in the meantime, the huge axle has been put in place, making it possible to build the cap. When that is finished, the entire contraption will be partially disassembled again for shipment.

Propstra campaign chair

New landscaping will link the giant structures back to the surrounding grounds, creating a hiking and biking pathway circling the two windmills. The Murphy Windmill is one of two in the park's western end. They powered water pumps that irrigated all of the Golden Gate Park. The Dutch, or north, windmill is in better shape, having received cosmetic repairs and a hydraulic engine in the 1980s. It broke down in recent years and still is in disrepair.

In San Francisco, The Windmill Campaign is a public and private fundraising effort spearheaded by a group of concerned citizens. Dutch American Don Propstra is Chairman of the Honorary Committee, which also includes Verbij. Propstra, a San Francisco businessman, psychotherapist and philanthropist, is the grandson of Jacob Propstra who immigrated to the United States in 1904. Jacob started a buttery that expanded over the decades into 40 restaurants including the Burgerville chain in the Pacific Northwest. The family corporation, called The Holland, uses a windmill for its logo and is based in Vancouver, Washington.