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May 20, 2014

Iconic Windmill to Return at Great Hopes Plantation

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- The Windmill of Colonial Williamsburg – one of the Historic Area’s most iconic landmarks – will return restored at Great Hopes Plantation, Foundation President and CEO Colin Campbell announced today at the annual Community Leaders Breakfast.

Campbell recalled the structure, removed four years ago from the Peyton Randolph site, as “an instant favorite not just with visitors, but area residents” that was even recreated on a 1980 U.S. Postal Service stamp.

“Once completed, the windmill will stand taller, more visibly – and I daresay, more proudly – above the Colonial Parkway, at the Visitor Center entrance to Great Hopes,” Campbell said. “We look forward to welcoming back the local community to rediscover this gem of the Historic Area.”

Scheduled to start this fall and wrap up in June 2015, the eight-month restoration is possible thanks to a commitment by longtime Colonial Williamsburg supporter David McShane of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

McShane, the former president of a family paper and packaging company, established his own charitable foundation in 2008 and has personally restored several century-old buildings, including his 1820 farm house.

“I care deeply about history and architectural preservation, which are of course at the heart of Colonial Williamsburg’s mission,” said McShane, a member of the Foundation’s Raleigh Tavern and W.A.R. Goodwin donor societies. “This project provided a great opportunity to make a contribution that will both enrich visitors’ visual experience and help them better appreciate colonial life.”

Completed in 1957 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement and based on the 1636 Bourn Mill in Cambridgeshire, England, the Windmill, formerly known as the Robertson’s Windmill, stood for 53 years behind the Peyton Randolph House.

Wear compounded by flaws in the windmill’s 17th-century design gradually eroded the machine’s stability, while the steady growth of surrounding trees disrupted its power source, leading the Foundation to cease its operation in the mid-1990s and close it to visitors in 2003.
While prominent, the windmill’s location in the Randolph family’s “urban plantation” conflicted with that site’s known lack of structures during the period of the 1770s recreated in the Revolutionary City.

Records indicate that 18th-century lawyer William Robertson owned a windmill in the city, but during the early 1720s and well south of the Randolph site.

In 2010 Colonial Williamsburg disassembled the structure and transported it to the Palace Farms site for storage and restoration en route to Great Hopes, where the Foundation represents rural life – including interpretation of enslavement.

Unlike familiar smock-style windmills, in which the sail assembly rotates to face the wind independent of the base structure, Colonial Williamsburg’s Windmill is a “post” windmill: the entire two-story mill house and sail rotate together atop a post-and-trestle base. A miller rotated the structure to the wind via a tailpole protruding from the house’s rear.
Research by Matt Webster, director of the Grainger Department of Architectural Preservation for Colonial Williamsburg and Steve Chabra, Historic Trades journeyman carpenter, revealed that structural flaws in the Bourn windmill itself have required retrofitting to stabilize its mill apparatus.

Plans prepared by project consultant Ben Hassett of B. E. Hassett Millwrights, Inc. of Lynchburg would likewise improve the stability and longevity of the Windmill, Webster said.

“We’ll be able to make the structure more reliable and easier to maintain, while including elements elsewhere that will add to its historical authenticity,” Webster said.

The restoration requires proper drying and treatment of the machine’s wooden components, crafted to strict tolerances to prevent future instability.

Campbell said the visitors will “once again be able to explore the inner workings of the mill, which will operate on a limited basis.”

Resumed operation will include grain milling as part of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Foodways Program, which interprets colonial cuisine at the Peyton Randolph House, Great Hopes Plantation, the Governor’s Palace and the Public Armoury.

Media Contact:
Joe Straw