Why Does Holland Have so Many Windmills?
The large number of windmills in Holland, or The Netherlands, is due to the fact that they were needed to pump water into the canals off the rich, low-lying land reclaimed from the sea. Windmills are still used for this purpose today, but pumps worked by electricity are more usual.
In the fourteenth century, hollow-post mills were used to drive scoop wheels to drain the wetlands. The Molen de Roos in Delft began its life as a hollow-post type and was later rebuilt with a higher stone construction in the eighteenth century. Today it has been restored and is open for viewing. In Amsterdam, you can see the Molen de Otter, the only wind-powered sawmill left in operation.
There are over 1000 windmills in Holland. Some are still being used for drainage, such as one or two of the nineteen in Kinderdijk. The Molen de Otter, still in operation in Amsterdam, is also used for drainage. The Molen de Valk in Leiden has been restored and now grinds grain once again. It is also a museum, a witness to the history of windmills in the area. The few mills that still turn are on the verge of losing power: with buildings around them getting higher, they can no longer catch the wind as they used to do.
There is an Old Dutch
saying, “God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland”. They certainly did
make a great part of their land by dragging it from the sea, and the battle to
hold it never ceases. The name Netherlands (from the Dutch Nederland) means low
land, and more than one-third of Holland’s land area of 12,530 square miles
lies below sea level.
Along the coast are dunes of sand-nature’s dykes—thrown up by normal tides. The Dutch plant them with marram grass, which holds the sand together with its long, strong, creeping roots. Behind the dunes the Dutch built three dykes of close-packed stone, clay and earth on wooden and concrete piles. The dyke nearest the sea is called a “waker”. Behind it lies a “dreamer” and behind that again a “sleeper”. Some of the dykes are 200-300 feet high and many have a road or, some, a railway running along the top.
In 1170 the North Sea swept into the country and formed the bay called the Zuyder Zee (South Sea). In 1421, another high tide flowed in to form the Hollandse Diep (Dutch Deep). The great spring tide of 1953 (two feet higher than any previously recorded) smashed the waker dykes, overflowed the dreamers and drowned about 1,900 people. About 50,000 were forced to flee from their homes. A famous Dutch story tells of a brave boy who stood for hours with his hand thrust into a hole in a dyke and so prevented the sea from rushing in and widening the breach in the wall.
Exploring windmills in Holland is an exciting thing to do. The Dutch have restored many of the historic sites. Once in a year Holland holds “National Mill Day.” Every second Saturday in May 600 windmills and watermills around the country open their doors to visitors. It’s an opportunity to see some of the historic mills that are no longer open regularly.