The history of the Öland mills

The vast majority of today's Öland mills are stump mills from the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th century. The term stump grinder is explained by the fact that the grinder housing rests on a large stump. When the wings before grinding should facing the wind, the entire mill housing is rotated around the fixed stump. The model is very ancient and windmills with a similar construction have appeared in Sweden from around the year 1300. The first time an Öland mill is mentioned in text is in 1546. We do not know how old the oldest of today's preserved mills is. There are probably mills that at least have certain parts that have been preserved from the 17th century or earlier. At Borgholm's city museum, there is a recovered heart stick with the year 1441 engraved.

The first mill inventory 1697-1699

The first inventory of Öland's mills was made by a state mill commission 1697-1699. The Commission concluded that there were a total of 375 windmills and 188 water-powered so-called quill mills. We can assume that all windmills at this time were stump mills. The lack of larger rivers and the uneven access to water in smaller streams meant that over time the gossip mill was completely outcompeted by the windmill. After the middle of the 18th century, the gaps decreased rapidly in number and today no one is preserved.

Sharp increase in the middle of the 18th century

During the 18th century, the number of windmills more than quadrupled. From 1699 to 1808, the number rose from 375 to 1677. The largest increase was from the middle of the 18th century, during the same period as the gourd mills gradually disappeared.

One of the main explanations for the increase was that a royal decree in 1746 eased the bans on felling of forests that have existed since the royal zoo's regulations were issued around 1570. From 1746 the islanders were given the opportunity to use certain oaks for building purposes, after approval of the crown Ranger. The local rangers were more generous than the authorities intended. In his book "Beskrivning öfwer Öland" from 1765, district bailiff Petter Åstrand claimed that after 1746 too many mills were built and that unnecessarily fine oaks were used. He believed that every farmer with a reasonable fortune built his own mill.

Störlinge mill row, Gärdslösa parish. Photo from the 1950s by Karl Nilsson.

2000 mills during the second half of the 19th century

The conditions for Öland's farmers improved during the first decades of the 19th century. Djurgårdsinrättningen was abolished in 1801. After land divisions in 1816 and 1819, the villages took over ownership of the lands from Kronan. The single-shift reform from 1807 and the reform on legal parcels from 1927 also contributed to the positive development. The number of mills continued to increase, albeit at a slower pace than before.

A royal letter from 1808 contained provisions aimed at counteracting the construction of more mills on the island. From 1808 to 1822, the number of windmills increased only from 1677 to 1713. In addition to the provisions of the royal letter, the slowdown may also have been due to the fact that the need was largely already met. Although the construction of windmills had decreased somewhat in intensity, the number continued to increase until around 1850, when it is believed that the maximum figure of 2000 was reached.

Vickleby was Öland's most densely populated parish

The information that there were 1677 mills in 1822 comes from the Öland priest Abraham Ahlqvist's book Ölands Historia och Beskrivning. According to Ahlqvist, the mills were the densest in Vickleby parish, where there were 77. The many mills in Vickleby were commented on in 1816 by another Öland priest, Nils Isak Löfgren. He said that the area's oak forest had been used to build mills. “For what reason do you nowadays instead of forest see a large amount of quarns in a row on the castle between Weckleby and Thorslunda churches. At Weckleby and Carlevi villages alone, about 50 are counted. Every farmer almost always has 2 of these, a wheat and a rye quarn,… ”Löfgren saw it mainly as a mismanagement with oak forest, but was still impressed by the view with all the mills in a row. Seen from the sea side, he thought, after all, that the mills at the edge of the castle gave "… a wealthy and beautiful appearance."

In the middle of the 19th century, there were around 2,000 windmills on Öland. They stood most densely in Vickleby parish. Drawing from 1816 by Nils Isak Löfgren (1797-1881).

Rapid decline around the year 1900

Around the turn of the century in 1900, the number of windmills decreased drastically on Öland. Initially, most mills were demolished in the southern and central part of the island, where the modernization of agriculture was fastest. The small stump mills were knocked out by new technically superior mills - first the large Dutch mills, then steam mills and mills powered by crude oil. Eventually there were also electric mills and mills that could be connected to the farm's tractor.

At the top of northern Öland, the reduction in the number of windmills did not go as fast. Even there, the number still increased slightly at the turn of the century in 1900, and as late as around 1920, a single mill is said to have been built in Föra parish. Seen across the island, however, the number dropped rapidly. When Bertil Palm had all the windmills of Öland counted in 1954, there were 437 left.

Dutch mills

Until the middle of the 19th century, in principle all windmills on Öland had been of the stump mill type. At this time, they faced competition from larger and more efficient Dutch mills. The new mill type is originally believed to have developed in Holland during the 1570s. The construction of the Dutch mill differs from the stump mill in that this is only the top part, the hood, which is rotatable. The Dutch mills were always operated as customs mills. Unlike a household mill, the customs mill was used for professional grinding. There was a miller who ground for a fee, in older times in kind - against "customs".

The picture below shows Anders Wahlstöm in front of the Dutch mill in Björnhovda. In his youth in the 1940s, Anders helped his father, the miller John Wahlström, to grind in the mill. Like most other Dutch mills on the island, it has moved here from the mainland. It was retrieved from Sandås in Kalmar in 1880. Around the turn of the century in 1900, there were about 30 Dutch mills on the island. Today, about ten remain.

Mjölnar son Anders Wahlström.

The cultural-historical value of the mills

The threat to the Öland mills was noticed by Anders Billow in the Swedish Tourist Association's yearbook in 1921. Billow wanted to "... draw attention to its imminent disappearance from the Öland landscape." In 1933, Kalmar county's antiquities association and Öland's cultural heritage association jointly formed a mill committee with the aim of saving the mills. Until the 1950s, the mill committee was helped in its work by the many local homestead associations that were founded at this time. Since then, the practical maintenance work of the rural associations has been of decisive importance for the preservation of the mills.

The associations now own and manage about a third of the island's mills. The others are privately owned. The mill committee's work as a driving force in matters concerning mills has now mainly been taken over by Ölands Kvarnförening, formed in 2008. In the inventory the association recently carried out, it was concluded that today there are 351 mills left on the island.

In the chapter About windmills, millers and grinding from the book Byggda minnen - Berättelser från Öland och östra Småland, Torslunda home village association shows how it goes to grind in a stump mill.

For those who want to read about renovation and construction issues, Evert Johansson's publication Öland's windmills, Care and maintenance is recommended.

Stump mill in Björnhovda, Torslunda parish. Since 2006, the mill can be used for grinding. Photo: Pierre Rosberg, Kalmar county museum.