Time Machine: Iowa Windmill & Pump Co.

From windmills to pipes to Cedar Rapids loft apartments

  • Photo

In 1890, a fast-growing Indiana company, Flint & Walling, opened a distribution center for its popular Star Wind Mills in Cedar Rapids.

A year later, the company decided to save on shipping and start manufacturing the popular, simple and storm-resistant windmills in Cedar Rapids.

Enlow D. McCartney, secretary-treasurer of Flint & Walling, came to Cedar Rapids with his wife, Emma, and their five children to head the branch, now named the Iowa Windmill & Pump Co.

The company bought land at Walnut Street and Seventh Avenue West and put up a 28,000-square-foot building in the Riverside Park Addition on the west side of the Cedar River.

“The building when finished will be one of the largest in the city, but none too large for the purposes for which it is intended,” The Gazette reported. “With the enlarged quarters, the company will greatly increase its business and will give employment to many more men. The Iowa Windmill and Pump company is one of the solid institutions of Cedar Rapids and one of which the city is proud.”

The city offered the company a five-year tax rebate, but McCartney said no. Iowa Windmill & Pump was willing to pay its share of taxes.

The company continued to grow, adding buildings and a warehouse. In McCartney’s first seven years on the job, he quadrupled Iowa Windmill & Pump’s business.

The Riverside Improvement Co. asked the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad to build a side track to service two businesses on the west side of the river — the windmill factory and Williams & Hunting. The rail company passed. Riverside convinced the BCR&N to put in the spur, and the tracks attracted more businesses — Casebeer Gunstock, Clark-MacDanel Clothing, J.M. Denning Fence and Hawkeye Pickle Co., among others.

BOOMING BUSINESS

By 1901, the Iowa Windmill factory, warehouses, lumberyards and office covered two acres. Two railroad switches connected all incoming trains to the factory to carry its goods to the rest of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and other points west.

In 1903, a steel tank factory was added, followed by a foundry and machine shop in 1904. (Walnut Street was vacated in 1904 to accommodate the Denning Fence Co.)

Iowa Windmill & Pump Co. supplied everything a farmer or rancher needed to draw water.

Its complex along the river also became the official site for a government gauge to measure the stages and stream flow of the Cedar River.

FAMILY, ELECTRIC CARS

McCartney became an integral part of Cedar Rapids.

He was very interested in the local schools, given that he had five children in the schools, and ran for school board in 1898. He led the city’s water department for more than a decade and was a board member of Merchant’s National Bank.

Widowed in 1897, he married Alberta H. Dennis at Immaculate Conception Church in 1898.

McCartney’s only son, Roy Enlow McCartney, graduated from Iowa State College in 1910 with an engineering degree. He headed for a Hudson Motor Car training program in Detroit, but when it shut down, he and a friend, Arlo Soth, returned to the windmill plant and began to build electric cars in 1911 and 1912. They made three.

Dr. Wentzle Ruml bought one of them. Ruml’s son, David, recalled this his father “used to bring the car in at night and put it on the ‘charger.’ Then he’d get up at 5 in the morning, study the calls he’d have to make on patients and try and figure out how far he could coast in his rounds so that the juice in the batteries would last and get him home.”

CAR SAVED

McCartney died in February 1941. As his heirs took stock of the company, they asked the city to compensate it for operating the river stage station, one of the oldest in the state.

After struggling through the World War II years, the company began clearing out old lumber and other unused items.

In 1945, Cedar Rapids florist Dale Newport paid $5 for one of Roy McCartney’s electric cars that had been stored on the third floor of the office building. The elevator that brought the vehicle to the top floor had long since been replaced with a smaller one. Getting the car out of the building required standing it on end.

It stayed in a garage at Newport’s on Wilson Avenue SW until 1975 when the Newport family began restoring it for the Antique Auto Club of America’s spring meet in Cedar Rapids.

No one knows what happened to the other two electric cars.

BUSINESS CHANGES

Iowa Windmill & Pump Co. filled its last order for a windmill in 1951 when it stopped its manufacturing operation. It became a wholesale outlet for plumbing, heating and building supplies and pumps.

I.S. Flegal of Marion and R.S. Stover of Marshalltown bought the Iowa Windmill branch in 1957, changing the name to Iowa Pipe and Supply Co.

Gerald Ovel, who had been sales manager for the competing Cedar Rapids Pump and Supply Co. for almost a decade, purchased majority interest in the company in 1960. He sold the company to Apollo Piping Supply of northern Minnesota. J.D. Mott Inc. of Rockford, Ill., bought Apollo in November 1986 and put its name on the riverfront building that had once manufactured windmills.

Linn County bought the Mott building in 1995, using it for warehouse space until the flood of 2008.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

The building was in pretty bad shape when Hobart Historic Restoration of Cedar Rapids bought it for half a million dollars in 2015. After millions of dollars in renovations, though, it is now the Mott Lofts apartments, with commercial space available on the ground floor.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.