The Kregel Windmill Factory Museum officially opened to the public on Nebraska City's Arbor Day celebration Friday with notice that its portrait of America's industrial past can be seen nowhere else.
“This is one of the most extraordinary factories in the country,” said industrial historian John Bowditch.
“It represents a sort of factory that was once extremely common all over the country, but is now virtually non-existent,” he said.
Preservation-minded people in Nebraska City introduced Bowditch and windmill expert T. Lindsay Baker to the factory and both men attended the grand opening.
The called the museum a remarkable achievement and national benefit.
Baker, author of the Field Guide to American Windmills, said the building was once threatened by structural collapse and the sale of its contents, but survived to take a unique place in the telling of America's story.
The grand opening provided opportunity for new voices to add their to that story.
Lois Morrow of Waverly said she had visited the factory as a child when her father worked there.
“It all looks very familiar,” she said. “I loved dad so much and this reminds me of him. It's the same as I saw it,” she said.
An Eli, the brand of the windmill made at the factory, is still on the farm homesteaded by Morrow’s great-grandfather.
She said they couldn't find water by the house, so they went down the hill to dig a well.
The windmill pumped the water to a cistern near the home.
Mark Kregel, who runs a small business using his expertise in numerical methods in contracts with the federal government, said he believes it was that sort of benefit to families that motivated factory founder George Kregel.
“Sometimes the farm wives would come up and wrap their arms around him, they were so grateful. The water was below our feet all the time. We didn’t know it, but you brought it into our kitchen,” he said.
In his 30-year study of windmills, Baker has identified over 1,000 companies that made windmills or claimed to make windmills.
“Out of these thousand, Kregel was just one, but it is the only one in which the historic factory remains intact,” he told a crowd of 130 that had gathered for the ribbon cutting.
Ernie Weyeneth of the Kimmel Foundation and Duane Smith of museum board cut the ribbon.
Attending were members of the Kregel family, city officials, museum volunteers, curator Jeremy Kirkendall and Nancy Hoch, who had championed the factory's preservation cause after Arthur Kregel’s death in 1991.
Mark Kregel, the grandson of George Frederick Kregel who settled in the region in the late 1800s, credited those who wanted a museum to help young people connect with the country's past.
Page 2 of 2 - “I am so proud of the people of Nebraska City and adjoining area who had the vision to resurrect this to what it is today,” he said. “As a descendant of George Frederick I want to say I owe so much to them,” he said.
Sid Suedmeier, who served on the orginal board of directors in 1993, described the opening as fantastic.
“It's great to see it preserved and to realize what they could achieve at that time. It's interesting that it could still be done today because everything is operational,” he said.
The transformation into a public museum means a defined walkway around the work centers and machinery, plus informative kiosks that tell the story of how machinery was used.
Bowditch said it is not just a treasure of windmill manufacturing, but of all of America's industrial history.
“It's an ultimate example of the local ingenuity being used to produce a product locally,” he said.
“When I saw this building in the mid-1990s, I was struck by the incredible time capsule we had here. It was as if they had walked out and shut the door. You had 70 or 80 years of artifacts just scattered around. It was amazing,” he said.
“There were literally thousands of companies like this throughout the United States and Canada that produced all sorts of products ranging from meat choppers and windmills to steam engines – whatever the people needed they made.
“They are all gone. Industrial preservation is not done much in this country,” Bowditch said.
“So, when you look at this factory, realize you have a gem of national significance. There are no others like it anywhere,” he said.