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Wednesday, March 5, 2008 09:50 am

Where there’s a Mill, there’s a way

Plans to turn landmark restaurant into a museum move forward

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Plans to beautify the building’s exterior by mid-2007 proved too optimistic.

Turning a dilapidated old restaurant into a historical museum takes a lot of time and work — especially when you start out with no money. “It’s definitely the most difficult task I’ve undertaken,” says Geoff Ladd, chairman of the Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County, established originally to save the Mill and now dedicated to promoting the Mother Road in the county.
When the project is completed next year — the 80th anniversary of the restaurant’s opening — it will be the result of donations and the labor of volunteers. The new museum will house memorabilia from businesses along Route 66, including those salvaged from the Pig Hip Restaurant and Museum in Broadwell, destroyed by fire in March 2007. “That loss makes [the Mill] all that more important,” Ladd remarks. Pig Hip owner Ernie Edwards is a promoter in the Mill project. Very little was salvaged in the fire, Edwards says — three original tables and some cups, pictures, and trinkets that, he hopes, will go into the new museum — but his restaurant/museum is still getting attention: A woman from Poland is among those writing about it, Edwards says. The Mill building, slated for demolition after being abandoned for 11 years, was finally turned over to the city of Lincoln and the foundation in December 2006. “The owner was going to tear it down. The city was fining him $100 a day,” says Ladd, also executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County. The building was “well gutted out.” Saving it, Ladd says, was “a miracle. It took a lot of time to get everything in place.”
The first efforts to save the Mill generated a hubbub in the community, Ladd says, because people hadn’t connected it with Route 66. The foundation’s original plan was to beautify the outside for a photo op in June 2007. “We had to change our game plan,” Ladd says. Roof damage required immediate structural work. Two less significant sections in the back had deteriorated so badly that they had to be demolished. The original front section was built in 1929; after World War II an Army barracks from Camp Ellis near Havana was moved to the back. That barracks adds to the historical significance of the building, and artifacts from Camp Ellis will be exhibited in the museum. The restaurant/bar, originally named the Blue Mill, was made distinctive by blue trim on the exterior. It was famous for its schnitzel sandwich, now served at Hallie’s Lunch Box on the Lincoln Square, which is owned by Brian Huffman, son of a former owner and a promoter of the reconstruction.
The total cost of reconstruction is estimated at $100,000; Edwards says that the foundation has probably spent $25,000 to $30,000 so far. A bank loan helped get the project started, and various organizations, governmental bodies, and individuals have contributed. Bob Waldmire of Springfield’s historic Cozy Dog Drive In sketched the building, and his work is now imprinted on souvenirs. Various fundraisers, including the countywide garage sale, June 13 and 14, are planned. “In the absence of money, I feel good about how we are using community groups,” Ladd says. “It instills a sense of community.” The foundation also encourages people to donate or lend artifacts. Their efforts were given a boost when the federal government designated Route 66 an endangered attraction, and Ladd says the Mill’s restoration has become something of a poster child for the salvage of historic buildings.  
Linda Hughes of Springfield is a regular contributor.
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