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Tiny Chimacum, WA gets its own Space Needle in the form of a windmill

LISTEN: Tiny Chimicum, WA gets its own space Needle in the form of a windmill
Chimicum's newest addition: Aeromotor Windmill (Photo by Rachel Belle)

Chimacum, Washington. Population 1,657. Blink and you may miss it. The teeny town is an unincorporated agricultural hub in Jefferson County, on the eastern Olympic Peninsula. If you’ve driven through on your way to Port Townsend or Port Angeles, perhaps you’ve stopped for a slice of pie at the Chimacum Cafe or for fresh produce at the Chimacum Corner Farmstand.

“We’re a natural foods grocery out in a rural farming community where two farming valleys come together; Beaver Valley and Center Valley,”  said Chimacum Corner Farmstand co-owner Katy McCoy.

She opened the farm stand with her husband, almost by chance, six-and-a-half years ago.

“I don’t think any of us ever dreamed that we’d be opening a grocery store. We certainly had no retail experience. I was a physician and burned out about 20 years ago and then I became an aspiring artist, oil painter.”

Her husband is still a physician in Seattle so they split their time between Chimacum and the city.

“But my heart is out here!”

In Chimacum she lives on, the sweetly named, Egg and I Road.

“Do you know ‘Egg and I?’ ‘Egg and I’ was a book written in the 40s, a memoir, Betty MacDonald. It was on the bestseller list for years and years and years, it’s never went out of print. it was her memoirs of being here, during prohibition, on a chicken farm. It was made into a movie and Chimacum was sort of the Forks of its day and people from all over started coming here and going up this road. So everyone referred to it as the Egg and I road.”

Today is Part Three of my Four Part series; all stories gathered from a day trip I took to Port Townsend, Chimacum and Port Gamble. I asked my Facebook followers for story ideas and one listener suggested: “Chimacum Corner Farmstand just put up an antique windmill.”

For a farming community with approximately zero major landmarks, this was a big deal.

“Yeah, the windmill! Our Aermotor,” McCoy exclaimed. “It was gifted to us by Eric and Casey Reeter of Wilderbee Farm and they were really, I guess, impressed with what we were doing for the farming community here. When this store opened this was an abandoned car parts store. So this corner was kind of empty. There was no ‘Welcome to Chimacum’ sign or anything like that. All of that is new and we’re trying to give a little identity to Chimacum, put a little pride back in here. It’s really a wonderful historic farming community with a really rich history.”

McCoy was thrilled to receive the vintage windmill, but it came completely unassembled in the form of a box of parts. Suddenly putting together an IKEA dresser seemed like a piece of cake. But with the help of a local mechanic-turned-farmer, and about three years time, as of about a month and a half ago the silver windmill now stands proudly in front of the farm stand, spinning in the breeze.

McCoy shares the history of the the Aermotor Windmill company:

“[The company] was founded in 1888. They invented this contraption where you could use wind to pump groundwater up to the surface. It allowed farming to start happening on a much bigger scale. If you take that center part of the country that goes from the Dakotas down to the panhandle of Texas, that’s really what allowed farming to happen there. Literally every wannabe farmer down there had one of these Aermotor windmills. The company is still in business and they still make the same model as what we have out here. The name of who this windmill was made for, it’s really sweet, is stenciled on one of the legs. He was from North Dakota.”

The windmill is enjoying its retirement in Chimacum, where it does no work, and simply looks pretty acting as the Space Needle of the valley. A valley that Seattle born-and-raised McCoy loves…but sometimes struggles with.

“There’s something that’s a little exhausting about Chimacum, partly because it’s a small town and you know everybody and I’m kind of an introvert.”

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