As we get ready to celebrate Earth Day at Spocott Windmill on April 23, we thought we’d take a moment to look back at the importance of windmills in Dorchester County…
“Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.”
“The Windmills of Your Mind,” music by Michel Legrand; English lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.…”
“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.
“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms….”
“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”
Don Quixote, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Cervantes, 1604
The first windmills were probably developed in China about 2,000 years ago, but the first drawing of a windmill was in Persia some 500 years later. Improved by millwrights in the Middle East and Europe, they eventually pivoted to catch the wind from all directions and had adjustable sails to control speed. Wind-powered machines met the needs of growing populations – grinding grain and spices, pumping water to drink or drain land – until wind gave way to steam and the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.
Colonial Dorchester County was well situated to use winds off the Chesapeake to turn sails to grind grain. While history is uncertain about the exact number of windmills in the county, we do know that at one time there were 18 here and four around Spocott in the Neck District.
By 1776 Maryland’s Eastern Shore was cultivating enough grain to earn the title “Breadbasket of the Revolution” by helping to feed George Washington’s troops. All that grain had to be ground into flour somewhere, and there’s one place in the county today where we can surmise that it took place – Spocott!
One of Dorchester County’s most beloved treasures is a full-scale replica of an English-style post windmill from the 1700s called Spocott Windmill. This type of mill has a large post planted sturdily in the ground. The housing for the gears is balanced on the post above the ground. Practical and elegant in design, it can be turned by pushing a tail pole on a wheel around the post to move the structure to best capture the wind.
However, post mills have limitations that became apparent in March 1888 during a blizzard. That year, the last commercial mill that operated at Spocott was blown completely over, leaving only the two grinding stones and steps in place.
The windmill was history until 1972, when the Radcliffe family employed master shipwright James B. Richardson to rebuild the windmill in honor of their relative, U.S. Senator George L. Radcliffe. Historically, millwrights were specialists with an understanding of basic engineering principles combined with carpentry skills to build strong enough structures to withstand the forces of wind, weather, and turning gears. Richardson researched, studied, and applied his knowledge of boat building to the job. He fashioned the working windmill, including the steps and the stones from the old mill that toppled, as carefully as he built his highly prized boats. Spocott Windmill was reborn.
Since that time, the Radcliffe family and friends have moved other buildings to the site, recreating a small, 19th century village that includes a general store, a cottage, and two buildings constructed by John Anthony LeCompte Radcliffe, the owner of the mill that toppled, a local schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop.
Spocott Windmill and Village is open for visitors 365 days of the year, though the mill only operates on certain days. The next running of the mill will happen during the Earth Day at Spocott Windmill on April 23. It continues to be supported by the Spocott Windmill Foundation, Inc., a 501-C-3 entity was set up to maintain the village, to help provide an educational component to the village, and to work with other organizations to help preserve the history and culture of the area.
DIRECTIONS TO SPOCOTT WINDMILL AND VILLAGE:
From North – Take Rt 50 East to Cambridge. Cross the bridge, and turn right at the third light (by Wawa). Turn right onto Rt. 343 West and follow through town. Rt. 343 is called Washington Street. in town, but becomes Hudson Road as you leave town. Follow Rt. 343 about 6 miles out of town. Look for the windmill on the left, directly across from the Lloyd’s Firehouse.
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