Renewable energy may be a hot topic right now, but in Texas, it’s old hat. Honestly! Our state has been using windmills since well before being “green” meant anything to do with energy use and consumption. Which is why a windmill museum in the Lone Star State makes perfect sense, and it’s because of Billie Wolfe, “The First Lady of the Windmill,” that the American Wind Power Center in Lubbock came about.
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American Wind Power Center: The Dream of ‘The First Lady of the Windmill’
It was in the 1960s when Texas Tech College of Home Economics teacher, Billie Wolfe, began her admiration of windmills which were in the background of the photographs used in her classes, “Housing Design for Family Living”. Each of the ranch and farm photos used in her classes almost invariably had a windmill. While the homes were the subject of her course, she recognized that these windmills were quickly disappearing. More often than not, most of what remained in her pictures were a tower and parts of its wheel, along with a bullet-ridden tail, which only served to fuel her interest. Over the next 30 years, she traveled the US looking for windmills and, when possible, purchasing one and having it shipped to Lubbock to be put into storage. In 1992, she heard of a restored collection of these beauties in Nebraska which was up for sale and negotiated the terms and down payment for the entire collection. She also had to promise the seller that the collection would remain intact and all together before he agreed to the sale. She did so, but before she could see her windmill collection taken from storage and put on full public display, Billie Wolfe, “The First Lady of the Windmill,” passed away.
This exceptional collection of windmills is today displayed on 28 acres off Canyon Lake Drive in Lubbock. Those leviathans that greatly influenced the development of the American west and once dotted the farms and ranches of Texas are now proudly displayed, evoking feelings of nostalgia and encouraging learning in a new generation of the state’s youth. Over 100 rare and historic antique windmills are exhibited inside the museum and another 60 have been erected on the grounds. It is the largest collection of American style water-pumping windmills in the world. From 1854-1920 there were more than 700 companies that manufactured tens of thousands of these babies. Today there are only two that remain; one (Aermotor) is situated in San Angelo, Texas and is the last American brand still built. Also on display at the American Wind Power Center is its own working wind turbine which was built in 2005 and was the first to be placed within a US city limit. Towering over the dozens of older windmills which are scattered throughout the museum grounds, its turning blades slowly generate energy for the facility, while the older collection can be heard almost musically turning in the West Texas wind.