Before electricity was introduced, Ivanec had used the hydropower from the Bistrica Stream for more than 150 years so that the stream was a real boon, which helped power and develop milling in our region.
The Bistrica Stream springs at the foot of Ivančica above the village of Prigorec, flows past beautiful and picturesque areas through the centre of Ivanec, and finally runs into the Bednja River.
After its source, it flows steeply downhill forming cascades where accumulated sediments have been found, leading to the conclusion that once there existed systems of natural waterfalls, which can be compared to the Plitvice Lakes.
Throughout the history, this hydro-energetic system enabled the work of twenty facilities (watermills and a sawmill).
Long before steam engines, motors and electric motors were used, people had relied on and been helped by natural energy sources, in this case, by the hydro-energetic potential.
The credit also goes to the existing natural preconditions - large quantities of water and difference in the height level between the source and the mouth of the Bistrica, which is estimated to be about 200m. This created a large energy potential, which enabled and helped develop a sophisticated system of smaller watermill channels. The channels were used to stop the water from Bistrica's bed (pass) on its way to smaller water dams, directing it towards wooden spouts, which met their ends above watermill wheels where the extraction of the hydropower took place.
The flow of the water through the channels and spouts itself was exactly prescribed and strictly controlled, which is also confirmed by preserved historical documents belonging to particular watermills. During the periods of heavy rainfall and melting of snow in spring, all the excess water ended up in Bistrica's bed (pass).
Preserved documents dating from the 19th and 20th centuries are a vivid indicator of the water potential, as the state demanded its share by issuing regulations how to use the water resources. A bill of approval (“Dozvolidbena isprava”) or concession was issued to nobleman Božidar Kukuljević from 1902-1903, giving him the rights to use Bistrica's water.
The part of Ivanec, which is also called Bistrica, is especially interesting and impressive. Here, there were paths on the both sides of the stream. Horse carts were driven across the streambed from one side to the other and small special wooden bridges (“brvi”) were built for pedestrians. In this area, livestock drank water, poultry (geese and duck) lived, and women washed “flaki” - clothes made of cotton, flax and hemp - in wooden troughs using the clear water. Having entered into that part of Ivanec, you could hear the clattering of watermill wheels.
The watermills on the Bistrica along with mining activities were not only a major initiator of economy, but they also left an indelible imprint on Ivanec by representing its trademark. Moreover, they did not only initiate the production of flour and pumpkin seed oil (“koščično ulje”) but also Ivanec's intense social life. The people of Ivanec waited impatiently for winter evenings to come because then they would gather in watermills' special rooms. Residents especially liked to socialise in Mate Friščić, Antun Levanić and Danijel Posarić's (Danek's) watermill, where pumpkin seeds were processed to make the so-called black oil. The process of making pumpkin seed oil lasted up to three days, which is why the watermills were also known as oil factories in the wider area. At the dead of winter nights, singing and smoke of roasted seeds filled the air, which could be felt and heard from far away. Every miller had his own story, joke, adventure or legend, which was retold to gathered people. Especially interesting were stories about good and evil witches (“coprnice”) who used to gather around watermills at midnight. The imagination was spurred on even more by shadows emerging from the light of watermills' paraffin lamps as well as by the arrival of the locals, who were carrying paraffin lanterns (“lampaši”) in their hands. Every watermill in Ivanec has its own history and has definitely left a special imprint on our Ivanec's heritage.
Pust's watermill was the largest and most impressive of them all. It was known for its smokeless tobacco (snuff) production from 1831-1848. After the Austrian Absolutism had been introduced, this private factory was transformed into a roller mill in 1849. The size of its roller lets us assume it was the first of this kind in Croatia. It was bought from L. Nemelk's company in Vienna. Some mills had also a sawmill, as the one belonging to Antun Gotal.
Larger amounts of wheat were transported by horse-drawn carts, while smaller quantities arrived in a basket or canvas bag (“žakelj” or “culek”).
Besides local residents, people from other regions of the Varaždin and Međimurje County brought their wheat, especially during the months when the Drava froze over and milling activities could not be performed.
The last owners of Ivanec's watermills (“Ivanečki melini”) in Prigorec were: Roza and Josip Sever, Andrija Mudri, and Andrija Friščić (the old and the new watermill); in the upper part of Ivanec: Ivan Čaklec (before him Pust and Lončar), Pust-Obsiger, Kukuljević-Rajter, Josip Čaklec, Mate Friščić, Šutej-Mucko, and Antun Gotal-Golovrščan; in Ivanec: Antun Levanić, Izidor Pavlinjak, Danijel Posarić, Alojz and Minka Milić, Dragutin Karažinec, Ivica Bukovec, Martin Hrg-Ivan Čaklec, and Ivan Stanko.
Unfortunately, due to the introduction of electricity and reduction of Bistrica's water resources for the purpose of supplying Ivanec's residents with drinking water, many watermills have stopped working. Since the watermill wheels stopped chattering, the mill houses have started to decay. Today, we can only find their remains because many of them have been pulled down or fallen into a state of disrepair.
Along the Bistrica stream and in its immediate surroundings, flora and fauna has luckily remained intact, which is an additional reason to visit the area, while we all, especially the younger generations, can and should contribute to informational and educational activities.
The Ivanec Tourist Board's wish is to mark the existing sites with interpretation boards displaying a short historical content and photo-documentation. The primary purpose of the boards is to be an educational reminder, defying the oblivion of a once important economic activity of the town. At the same time, the realisation of the project contributes to a high-quality informative interpretation of the attractions for the purpose of touristic, cultural and economic valorisation of our heritage.
The “Ivanec watermills“ project has been carried out since 2011, while the realisation and display of the project is a contribution to the 620th anniversary since the first written mention of the town of Ivanec.
Today, the town finds solace in memories of its renowned residents who used their own capital to support the milling industry of one part of the Varaždin County.
While visiting the so-called “Watermill Route of Ivanec” you unavoidably meet friendly people who will love to have you as their guest, offer you a glass of wine and retell you a story or a legend…
According to one legend, a miner from Prigorje called Jandraš bumped into three young women, wearing silk clothes at a watermill. This happened while he was returning home late at night. Having been dragged up and down the Bistrica Stream all night long, he reached Černe Mlake (Black Puddles), where a couple of women wearing black used bogue branches to sweep a dance floor next to the largest puddle. In the morning they took him back to the place where they had run into him, while he had more luck in life ever since.