A Dutch windmill in Salem

By Curt Swarm

Relaxing in his living room, Ken Greer of Salem watches the blades of his Dutch Windmill turn round and round, a comforting sight, sort of hypnotizing. He?s not watching through a window?he has a surveillance camera on the windmill, not so much watching for trespassers or vandals, but to make sure the windmill is pointed into the wind. If the wind shifts, he hustles outside, unties the ?steering wheel,? and readjusts the direction of the blades. A little American flag on the side of the windmill indicates wind direction. This is the way the Dutch in Holland did it. The Dutch Windmills were not self-directional, like windmills on local farms pumping water. The head of the Dutch Windmills required manual turning.

Greer has built a scale model replica of a Dutch Windmill, and it is on display in his front yard in Salem. It?s a traffic stopper. People come from miles around to see what an authentic Dutch Windmill looks like. After inspecting the details of Greer?s meticulous handiwork, and asking questions, they usually leave shaking their heads, and tell other people about Greer?s windmill. The 14? 6? tall windmill has 1,100, 2? x 1 ? cedar shingles, and 13,000 ? red ?bricks,? all hand made, sealed, and attached by Greer. The perfectly balanced blades have 400 screws, 100 in each blade.

Greer always wanted to build a windmill. When his life partner, Sharon Cook, asked him to build a windmill for her, he got to work. He wanted to have it done for her birthday.

All Greer had to go by was a picture they found on the internet of a Dutch Windmill in Holland, Mich. According to ?Country? magazine, the windmill was ?built in the Netherlands in 1761. The historic windmill was dismantled, shipped here in pieces and painstakingly reassembled in 1964. It?s the only authentic working Dutch Windmill in the U.S., still grinding flour, which is sold to tourists, bakers, and restaurants.?

It took Greer three months to build his replica, approximately 1/10 the size of the windmill in Holland, Mich. He built the bottom half first, then the top half. With the help of five other men, they sat the top on the windmill. He missed Sharon?s birthday by one week.

Of course, what?s a Dutch Windmill without tulips? But tulips only last about a month. Yep. Greer makes his own tulips out of wood that last all summer. They are built so delicately that they actually quiver in the breeze.

If the wind gets too strong, Greer can tie the blades of his windmill down. But it has held up just fine in 30 mph winds. Likewise, if the wind is too slight to turn the blades, like the Dutch, he can put a cover on the blades so that they will turn in the most minimal of breezes. All it takes is a seven mph wind to start his blades turning. The average wind speed in Henry County is 18 mph.

There isn?t hardly a detail that Greer has missed. You might call him ?particular? or a person who ?pays attention to detail.? For example, each blade of the windmill, made from red oak and white oak, weighs almost exactly 4 lbs. One blade was a teeny bit light. If you look real close, you?ll see a tiny weight attached to that blade. When the blades stop, they don?t turn one way or the other before coming to rest. Greer wouldn?t have that.

Greer has never seen a real Dutch Windmill, but he would like to. With Sharon, they may have to take a vacation to Holland, or Holland, Michigan, or both.

What?s his next project? He?s always wanted to build a lighthouse.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at, or visit his website at You can also listen to Swarm reading his columns at