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San Francisco, California

Murphy Windmill

Once the largest windmill outside of Holland, with enormous 114 foot sails. 

The second of two enormous windmills built in Golden Gate Park, Murphy windmill was capable of drawing an impressive 40,000 gallons of water per hour on a windy day, helping to transform the shifting ocean-side dunes into the green of parkland.

In 1921, the daredevil Velma Tilden climbed aboard the mighty sails and held on for 25 full rotations for a prize of $25 worth of chocolates.

The two gargantuan windmills that overlook Ocean Beach at the far west end of Golden Gate Park were once mighty pumping machines, designed to provide water for the fledgling park at the beginning of the last century. Since then, they have fallen into disrepair and been resurrected twice.

Fresh water was essential to transform the sand dunes of the Sunset district into the lush, manufactured parkland of Golden Gate. Inland, ground water was insufficient, so an idea was hatched to harness the coastal winds to pump deep water closer to the ocean shore.

Their functionality was short-lived. Built between 1902 and 1908, both windmills pumped fresh well water from depths of 200 feet until 1913, when they were replaced by electric pumps that were capable of much more efficiency. Almost immediately, they began to decline.

The North windmill, known as the Dutch Windmill, was the first, built in 1902 to fill the artificial park ponds of Lloyd Lake, Metson Lake, and Spreckels Lake.

The South windmill, known as the Murphy Windmill, was the largest of its kind in the world, with gigantic 114 foot sails, each cut from a single log. These sails turned clockwise, unlike traditional Dutch windmills which turn counter-clockwise (early, terrifying, film footage shows repairmen riding the sails as they make their circuit). It was built to supplement the Dutch windmill between 1905 and 1908, funded by $20,000 from a local banker named Samuel Murphy, and donations of lumber and copper roofing from other local businesses. It has just recently completed a ground-up restoration, its inner workings re-fitted in the Netherlands by a centuries old windmill designer.

In September 2009, the restored cap of the Murphy Windmill returned from the Netherlands, and the final stages of its restoration have been recently completed. The adjacent Millwright’s Cottage, built in 1909, is said to have a future as a park cafe. Together they are now San Francisco Landmark #210