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26 February 2020

Overwaard Museum Mill: ‘A unique project in the world of windmills’

A trajectory spanning about fifteen years is headed for a festive conclusion on Wednesday April 1. On that day, the Overwaard Museum Mill will open its doors at Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage. From that moment on, this wholly unique drainage windmill invites you to take a personal look inside.

“This is a unique project in the world of windmills. It’s simply fabulous.” With the third museum mill’s grand opening still more than a month away, project leader Jan-Willem de Winter of the Kinderdijk World Heritage Foundation (SWEK) is unable to contain his enthusiasm any longer. The opening event scheduled for the first day of April marks the completion of a trajectory that was set in motion way back in 2004 by the South-Holland Provincial Authorities. At the time, the message to SWEK and other parties was as stark as it was simple: “Something needs to be done about this mill.” Over the years that followed, the mill exposed its many secrets one step at a time as (demolition) work progressed.

The education barn and Overwaard Museum Mill.

The education barn and Overwaard Museum Mill.

The fourth Overwaard windmill is unlike any other windmill in the world. After its construction in 1740, it was the only specimen capable of milling water out in two directions. Over the centuries that followed, the mill was subjected to many extensive overhauls, aimed at providing more space to live for its miller and his family, for instance. By commission of SWEK, the mill has undergone a thorough restoration in recent years. Now, as a new oakwood scoop wheel has been refitted to the mill’s frame, its original structure as it was in its two-way drainage days is brought back to life. A treasure trove of items left over from its ensuing lifetime has been preserved to maximum effect. These relics serve to illustrate the complete history of this thatch-covered listed monument in all its layered splendour. A wall section dating back two centuries here, a 280-years-old piece of lower wheel scaffolding there, the original living room window frame from 1800; it’s a feast for the eyes of any history afficionado.

Many people visiting here have never seen a windmill before

 

The Overwaard Museum Mill is only accessible to groups of visitors, who are carried across the basin by boat to explore its interior. In the adjacent education barn, the focus is on the millwright’s trade, brought to life through an exhibition of tools assembled by collector Eddy van Donselaar. Inside the mill, everything quite literally revolves around technology. How exactly does a windmill work? Visitors are bound to find out here. When the mill is in operation, the first floor offers a great view of its dual scoop wheels working simultaneously, turning in opposite directions. The wooden wheels are set in motion by an electrically powered engine; the restored behemoth does not actually move any water around these days. Glass floors have been put in place to reveal the myriad details this imposing structure has to offer. The team of SWEK’s millers are charged with the task of explaining the complicated story of the two-way drainage mill in plain language. “That’s quite a challenge, to be fair”, De Winter realises. “Many people visiting here have never seen a windmill before, and this is a pretty sophisticated one to start out with – it’s wheels within wheels in a very real sense.”

Where the old meets the new.

Where the old meets the new.

Half a million

All in all, rebuilding the nearly 300-years-old monument and the construction of the education barn cost around half a million euros. The South-Holland Provincial Authorities accounted for a considerable portion of the expenses. SWEK paid its share as well. In addition to its unique inner workings, another aspect that sets this mill apart is its wheelchair accessibility. The ground floor is fully open to wheelchair users; the new tour boat has extra spaces for them too, and both the millyard’s trail and the mooring jetty have a wheelchair-friendly design, whereas the education barn features special toilets for people with disabilities.

 

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