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The Case of the Missing Windmill

By David Cochran | August 17, 2023


It’s easy to misplace your keys or forget where you put your wallet, but losing a windmill? That’s hard to do and even harder to find. But such was the plight of the Van Zandt family, formerly of Blawenburg. Their property, called Broad View Farm, was a premier agricultural site in New Jersey for nearly a century. It was one of the first farms in Blawenburg, having been established in the 1740s by the Dutch immigrants Peter and Aeltje Nevius.

The windmill on Broad View Farm. Photo by Clem Fiori.


For most of the 20th century, the farm was run by brothers Percy and Albert Van Zandt. The farm was known for its innovative practices that drew the attention of many farmers throughout New Jersey. In 1950, they hosted a Soil Conservation and Machinery Field Day, and 8,000 people showed up! Eventually, Percy converted one of the barns to an International Harvester farm equipment dealership. Currently, the barn serves as the Princeton Elks Lodge. Like the farm, the dealership was a popular destination for farmers throughout the state looking for good equipment and service.


In 1905, the Van Zandts installed a state-of-the-art windmill tower beside their main barn and electrified it with an Aeromotor head in 1920. The windmill worked well for 75 years, supporting the family farm and the J. Percy Van Zandt Company farm equipment business.


Percy died in 1987, and eventually the family sold the farm. They wanted to do something special to remember Percy, and when the NJ State Agricultural Museum opened at Cook College, Rutgers University in 1990, they saw an opportunity. They talked with the NJ Department of Agriculture, who agreed to move and reinstall the windmill to the museum site. The old windmill stood like a silent sentry outside the entry for nearly two decades. Thousands of people likely read about Percy’s accomplishments on the plaque that stood beside it.


In 2011, the State of NJ had many budget cuts, and the museum was closed. Its contents, including the windmill, were removed. The Van Zandt family had moved away from Blawenburg and had no knowledge that the museum was gone. Eventually, they discovered that both the museum and the windmill, their memorial gift honoring their family patriarch, where no longer there.


After many calls to Rutgers and the Agriculture Department resulted in dead ends, the family was frustrated. They didn’t have a clue where it was, and no one else seemed to either. But Van Zandts are persistent, and eventually, they found that the windmill was given to the Friends of Millstone Township Historic Properties, a nonprofit group in New Jersey. They acquired the windmill with the understanding that they would reconstruct it at a place that would recognize the importance of farming.


When the Van Zandt family reached out to this organization, they discovered the windmill had been separated into several pieces and left in a field awaiting funding to reconstruct it. They considered trying to get the windmill back to Blawenburg or elsewhere in Montgomery Township, and even considered purchasing it from the owners. Finally, they discovered that the new owners had been working on a grant to restore the windmill. They wanted to rebuild it on a working educational farm/museum known as the Thomas Baird Farm in Millstone Township, Monmouth County.


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The Van Zandts were assured that the project would honor the memory of Percy. The grant was finally awarded, and reconstruction began on November 17, 2022, just a day before its last owner, John Percy Van Zandt Jr., (Percy’s son) passed away at age 98. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The lost has been found.


The J. Percy Van Zandt windmill is running again and is pumping water for use in nearby greenhouses at the historic Thomas Baird Farm. They have hosted school groups and are developing educational materials related to the farm and windmill. In the near future, they will hold a rededication of the windmill. The signage accompanying it will tell all the young visitors about J. Percy Van Zandt, the pioneer in farm mechanization, who supplied his farm with water using that very windmill long before they were born.


David Cochran is the author of “Where Are They? The Missing Men of Marlowe Mansion.” You can read more about the Van Zandt farm and windmill at Tales of Blawenburg, blogs 9, 11, and 85. Visit blawenburgtales. com.

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