In October 2012, a windmill joined the collection of buildings at Fort Ross State Historic Park (19005 Coast Highway 1, Jenner, 707-847-3437) on the Sonoma County coast. And it’s not just any windmill, either: it’s a full-sized replica of the first windmill to ever turn a blade in all of California.
The replica’s original was built at Fort Ross in 1814. The few mills that existed elsewhere in what was then Spanish/Mexican California were powered either by water or animals.
According to historians, the high winds around Fort Ross made windmills a logical choice. There were eventually at least two windmills at Fort Ross (the second was completed sometime between 1839 and 1841). Both disappeared long ago.
But now, thanks to the Renova Fort Ross Foundation, the 1814 replica – 37 feet high, with 19-foot vanes (blades) – can once again be seen on the grounds. The windmill was built by craftsmen in Kirillov, Russia, who used 19th century tools in the process (interior photo by Lisa Gurian). The cost of constructing the windmill was $300,000.
When it was completed, the windmill was disassembled for shipment and re-assembled at Fort Ross; it uses 200-year-old millstones taken from Russian windmills. The replica windmill can produce flour from grain just like the original did two centuries ago.
The windmill was officially unveiled on Oct. 20, 2012, at the Fort Ross Harvest Festival. A scale model of the windmill is also on display in the Fort Ross Visitors Center.
There’s plenty more to see at Fort Ross State Historic Park, of course, including a museum with comprehensive displays about the region’s three main influences (the Kashaya Indian, Russian, and Spanish and Mexican rancho eras).
You’ll be able to tour the authentic Rotchev House and replica buildings that include a chapel and warehouses, and you can also visit the beach and tidal pools, go hiking on the coastal bluff, enjoy a picnic, and much more.
Park grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset; the fort compound and visitors center are open daily 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fort Ross is closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Entrance fee is $8 per car.