Bring back the water wheel


Ride date:


This photo is from a two-week ride in September 2004. Shabbona Park is on Indian Creek, near Earlville, Illinois. It’s now a place where one can sit at a picnic table to make dinner while watching cows graze near the edge of the creek, or look at the gravestones commemorating those who were killed here in 1832 in the “Indian Creek massacre.” What happened here gave the United States a pretext to do what it was going to do anyway to the Potawatomi people of Indiana and Michigan.

I’m still reading Terry Reynolds’ book about the history of the water wheel. I wasn’t thinking water wheels when I rode to this site, but I should have been. A dam on the creek that lies just over the hill (perhaps a mile or so upstream, though) was a cause of the violence here. A dam would have been for the purpose of a mill, and for that there would have been a water wheel.


There are no water wheels left, but there are millstones. They are not necessarily from 1832, but now I see that putting millstones in that park actually may be part of a connected story about what happened there.

It’s too bad we don’t have more water wheels, though, to remind us of what had once been an important feature of the landscape.

And that naturally brings up the question of whether there are any movies in historical settings that feature water wheels. I can’t think of any. But there some that should have included them. Take Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” for example. The setting is in Russia somewhere in the vicinity of 1400 A.D. The process of heating the iron hot enough to cast into a bell would have required forced air from bellows, and that would almost certainly have required water wheels, if I understand Reynolds correctly. And a water wheel would have been great material for a cinematographer.

Here’s a campaign slogan: Bring back the water wheel, at least into our historical memories!

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