Generally with Russia at the turn of the century, one would assume that it would be in the national interest to keep up with the industrial, economic, and political development of the rest of Europe. While factories and industrial development was rapidly expanding in the culturally central region of the Russian Empire, namely Moscow and Saint Petersburg, most provinces in the outskirts of Russia saw little development and still relied on farming methods that have been around for centuries such as the mills seen below in 1912 in the Tobolsk (Тобольск) Province in Siberia.
Tobolsk is located roughly halfway between Moscow and Novosibirsk and is the historical capital of Siberia. What’s interesting about this photo is it shows a couple of old worn mills traditionally used to crush grain. The steps in the back could be lifted and the entire upper structure of the mill would be rotated to face the wind. By this time, however, steam-powered factories where grain could be milled mechanically already existed. Tobolsk isn’t a random city either, with its own Kremlin and major fishing centers near the Irtysh river, so to see such outdated structures just on the outskirts of the city is unusual. Additionally, it would become the prison for the Russian Imperial family during the Russian Civil War prior to their execution.
Perhaps it was this usual sight that attracted Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii to take the photo. It could have also been his desire to preserve that part of Slavic culture, a piece of ancient engineering that lasted centuries. To this day this particular style of mill is considered a staple in regions such as Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland.