Windmills are as picturesque as all get out, and if you’re like me, you’ve always associated them with wooden shoes and the Netherlands. There, they were typically employed to harness the wind to pump water out of land being reclaimed from the sea; the Dutch call such parcels of land polders.
But windmills were pretty common all across the low countries of Europe, including the Baltic states, and they served a number of needs. Today, Jane and I visited Šiauliai’s Žaliūkiai windmill, where we learned that windmills originated in ancient China and can be traced back at least to the ninth century, C.E., in Europe. As recently as the 1930s, there were upwards of 2,000 of them in Lithuania alone.
There were water mills and the occasional steam mill, of course, but most mills, like the Žaliūkiai mill, were turned by the wind, and they were used to grind grain. The Žaliūkiai mill was constructed sometime around 1875, which means that it is, on the one hand, not all that ancient, and on the other hand, the oldest wooden structure in Šiauliai. Wars and fires took a toll on twentieth-century Lithuanian cities.
It seems that there were two kinds of windmills, cap mills and pole mills; the Žaliūkiai mill was of the former variety. The difference is that with cap mills only the top part—the fourth floor, under the cap—turns with the wind; the rest of the mill remains stationary. Typically, there are four blades covered with linen—like the sails of a ship.
It seems that the Žaliūkiai windmill did not make an easy transition to nationalization during the Soviet occupation beginning in 1940. It stopped grinding altogether in 1957, and then “stood abandoned for ten years,” according to a booklet published by the Šiauliai Aušros Museum, called “Žaliūkiai Miller’s Farmstead.”
This publication provides a detailed explanation for the mechanically challenged visitor (such as yours truly) unable to stare at the wooden gears and intuit the way that the machine produced flour. A tour is well worth the price of admission, which for us (half-price for seniors) was 2 litas, i.e., $.80, apiece. Adjacent is a reconstructed farmhouse where groups of school children learn to bake bread using the flour produced by the mill. We were the only visitors at the mill today, so we could only imagine the aromas that sometimes emanate from the kitchen.