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The Murphy Windmill: A Historical Icon in Golden Gate Park

If you’ve ever strolled through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, you’ve likely come across the iconic Murphy Windmill, also known as the South Windmill. This historic structure has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century and remains a fascinating landmark for locals and visitors alike. In this article, we’ll delve into the history and current status of the Murphy Windmill.

A Tale of Two Windmills

At the turn of the 20th century, Golden Gate Park faced a significant challenge: transforming the sandy dunes that covered the area into a lush and inviting garden for visitors. The solution? Two windmills, the North (Dutch) Windmill and the South (Murphy) Windmill, were constructed in 1902 and 1907, respectively, to pump groundwater for park irrigation. These windmills, inspired by their counterparts in the Netherlands, harnessed the power of San Francisco’s gusty winds to churn water, ensuring the park’s greenery thrived.

The Murphy Windmill: A Gift to the City

The Murphy Windmill, also known as the South Windmill, was a gift to the city from banker Samuel G. Murphy. When completed in 1908, it was the largest windmill of its kind in the world. This impressive structure could pump 40,000 gallons of well water a day, helping to save the city from the high costs charged by the private Spring Valley Water Company.

The Windmill’s Decline and Restoration

As time marched on, electric water pumps replaced the need for windmills, and the Murphy Windmill fell into disrepair. By the 1950s, it was in a state of ruin. However, in 1964, the San Francisco Citizens Commission for the Restoration of the Golden Gate Park Windmills was formed, spearheaded by Eleanor Rossi Crabtree, daughter of former San Francisco mayor Angelo Rossi.

The restoration journey began in 2002, and after a long and dedicated effort, the Murphy Windmill was brought back to life in 2012. Today, the windmill’s massive spars and sails can often be seen gracefully turning in the face of Pacific breezes.

A Fun Fact: Clockwise Rotation

One fascinating tidbit about these windmills is that they turn clockwise, unlike the traditional windmills in the Netherlands, which spin in a counterclockwise rotation. It’s a charming quirk that adds to the windmills’ allure.

Visiting the Murphy Windmill

While the Murphy Windmill is no longer in functional use, you can still witness its majestic sails spinning on weekends and holidays. It stands as a testament to the park’s history and the determination of San Franciscans to preserve their city’s landmarks.

So, the next time you find yourself exploring Golden Gate Park, take a moment to admire the Murphy Windmill. It’s not just a relic of the past but a living piece of San Francisco’s rich history, reminding us of the city’s dedication to maintaining its cherished landmarks.


Information provided by SF Recreation and Park Department

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