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21 August 2019

Exceptional details exposed at Overwaard Museum Mill

By the spring of 2020, a third Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage windmill will be opened to the public. As the building underwent extensive repairs, exceptional details just kept coming to light. The unique defining feature of this windmill is its ability to mill the water in two directions.

When its doors open to visitors, this aspect will be a defining feature of the new Museum Mill. When it was originally built, this two-way system was the only one of its kind in the world. Many of the mill’s recent adjustments were intended to make this key aspect more visible to the public. The most striking aspect uncovered is the two-way scoop wheel, which was recently refitted to this monument from 1740. “This is just so unique. The scoop wheel was built according to the original specifications using oak wood”, explains project leader Jan-Willem de Winter of the Kinderdijk World Heritage Foundation (SWEK). “This is going to be the real eye-catcher.” SWEK’s maintenance and management coordinator Herman Sangers and maintenance supervisor Ad Wisse are closely involved in the process too.

The recently refitted wooden scoop wheel.

The recently refitted wooden scoop wheel.

The goal of bringing the days of two-way milling back to life proved a complex challenge. This functionality was lost since before the close of the eighteenth century. Somewhere around 1800, the mill was thoroughly refurbished to accommodate a miller’s family living within its walls. One of its twin scoop wheels was removed, and its equally impressive lower wheel had to go as well. Walls were built and floors installed. De Winter: “You can’t just wing it based on a ‘I guess this is what it must have been like’ approach. We don’t want to make any suggestions about its original state without finding proof. That’s actually a real criterion for a project like this.”

Tiles

As work got underway over the past few years, more and more exceptional details kept coming to light. Buried underneath the last occupant’s kitchen floor, workers discovered the original eighteenth-century tiles. You could see how they were gradually more soot-stained and blackened the closer you got to where the fireplace used to be. Every single tile has been painstakingly removed, indexed, labelled, and carefully cemented back in its original position. Hidden away behind sheets of plasterboard used as a bathroom wall, the original scaffolding of the lower wheel was uncovered, complete with the wedges that kept it in place. It used to serve as a kind of protective fence to shield off the rotating cogwheel while the mill made its rounds. Of all the Overwaard’s eight windmills, this is the only one that still has this original feature.

Is it just a handle, or a heart-shaped reminder of a miller’s romance?

Is it just a handle, or a heart-shaped reminder of a miller’s romance?

Half a million

The Overwaard Museum Mill is scheduled to be opened to the public by spring 2020. Windmill technology and the millwright’s craft will be the main focus of attention here. Part of the story will be told and visualised in the education barn built next to the windmill. From up on the first floor of the windmill, glass panels embedded in the floor’s structure allow visitors a top-down look at both of its scoop wheels. The replica, with a total weight of eight tonnes, will be gently set in motion by a small but powerful motor. Once the whole mill is set in motion, it will show both of its scoop wheels spinning in opposite directions. Even so, this refurbished leviathan will not be capable of actually moving any water.

Visitors will get a top-down view of the scoop wheels in full swing.

Visitors will get a top-down view of the scoop wheels in full swing.

Costs of reconstructing this nearly three-centuries-old monument and building the adjacent education barn are estimated at about half a million euros. A substantial part of these expenses is covered by the South Holland Provincial Authorities. SWEK will contribute its part, too. The Overwaard Museum Mill will only be accessible by water and is intended for groups of up to fifty visitors. Over the coming months, the millyard will also undergo a serious makeover. Every effort will be made to ensure that the occupants of the other Overwaard mills will experience no hindrance from the tourists.

The tale

In his position as an architectural historian, De Winter was able to go all-out on this project. “This really gets my blood pumping. As a historian specialised in architecture, you look for clues hidden in old building, and you use them to figure out what their original function was. To me, the best part of this project was allowing the mill to tell its own tale, backed up by the evidence we uncovered from the archives.”

Project leader Jan-Willem de Winter at work during an earlier stage of the project.

Project leader Jan-Willem de Winter at work during an earlier stage of the project.

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