The 39-foot tall windmill sat on the bluff at Fort Ross State Historic Park on Saturday, the vanes straining in the onshore winds, a reminder that although the Russians may have built a fortress, the settlement was really a peaceful colony.
"The Russians brought language, some culture and some technology and built this windmill because people needed to be fed," said Rinat Umarov, an official with the Link of Times Foundation, a Russian cultural and historic foundation.
"The Russians were here in peace and this windmill is a symbol of that peace," he said.
Link of Times financed the $380,000 windmill, which was hand-made in Kirillov, Russia, then disassembled and shipped to Northern California to be reassembled at the park, located on the Sonoma Coast 12 miles north of Jenner.
The windmill was timed to be finished as part of the 200th anniversary of the fort's founding in 1812. It was a draw Saturday for visitors to the Fort Ross Harvest Festival.
"It looks pretty good. I have never seen one like this before. It is impressive," said Howard Rosenberg of Antioch.
"It is fascinating," said Linda Pixley of Denver, Colo.
Architect Anton Maltsev of the Restoration Centre in Moscow and architect Aleksander Popov, the center's director, took four months to build the windmill in Kirillov, a city where windmills had traditionally been built, using designs and techniques that evolved since 1100 AD.
"There is a huge amount of human intellect in this building, a huge amount of wisdom," said Keith Alward of Alward Construction in Berkeley, who helped with the construction at Fort Ross. The architectural firm of Page & Turnbull, which has offices in San Francisco, was hired by Link of Times to convert the drawings of the authentic design, provide engineering and assist with the construction at Fort Ross.
The windmill took three weeks to reassemble and get it into operating shape, so it can actually be used to grind wheat into flour.
Popov said Saturday that it was an interesting project and he felt fortunate to be chosen.
"We started in 2010 and it was very uncertain and vague," Popov said through a translator. "At some point we didn't think it would happen, but we are pleased."
The windmill is hand-made of pine, spruce and birch, held together with wooden pegs and hand-forged fittings, with the architects using axes, adzes and drawknifes just as craftsmen would have 200 years ago.
"I think it is a real accomplishment to bring something from two centuries ago to the present," Alward said.
The windmill is a unique, Russian-style "post mill" in which the entire mill house swivels around a central post to keep the vanes facing into the wind.
The original Fort Ross windmill was the first windmill constructed in California, built two years after the colony was founded to hunt sea otter, provide food for similar settlements in Alaska and act as a trading post.
The Russians stayed until 1841, when the fort was sold to John Sutter of Sacramento.
The original windmill was one of two at Fort Ross. The second was to pound tanbark for oil used in leather tanning.
Ironically, the Fort Ross replica windmill is the only working Russian windmill in the world, fitted with two 200-year-old mill stones and the ability to actually use wind-power to grind the grain. The few windmills that have survived in Russia aren't operational, Umarov said.