LINCOLN — Lincoln resident Terri Shroyer remembers growing up around The Mill, a former Lincoln restaurant and Route 66 icon that has been closed since 1996.
Her great-grandparents, Albert and Blossom Huffman, bought The Mill in 1945.
“They ran it when I was a little girl and the upstairs was their home, where there was a beautiful apartment,” she said.
After their deaths, their son, George Huffman, and his wife, Eleanor, took ownership.
“The food was always so amazing,” Shroyer said. “Everyone knew everyone.”
By the time The Mill closed in 1996, it had turned into a part-time museum. After 20 years of deterioration, the renovated building will reopen this spring as a full-time museum showcasing the heritage of Lincoln, Logan County and their connection to Route 66.
In 2006, the Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County was created to promote and preserve The Mill and other Route 66 sites in Logan County. In 2009, Landmarks Illinois, a statewide preservation advocacy group, named the site at 738 S. Washington in Lincoln one of the state’s 10 most endangered historical places.
Now the work of preservation advocates is paying off.
“We are thinking mid- to late April as far as having a grand opening,” said Geoff Ladd, the secretary of the committee organizing the restoration effort. “We have made it to the final stages of this project.”
In order to comply with state laws, new restrooms had to be added to the back of the building. Funds came from a $22,720 National Park Service grant and nearly $16,000 in grant money from the city of Lincoln's hotel/motel tax income.
“It’s not a burden on local taxpayers, which we think is very important,” Ladd said. “The critical step was to have the functioning restrooms completed. They had to be compliant with all of the new laws and yet we wanted to make sure that it still stayed in as much of a historical context as possible.”
Ladd said the museum will feature Route 66 memorabilia.
“We want to make it specific to Lincoln and Logan County as much as we can,” he said.
“We have some items left from The Mill, but not as much as we would have liked," he said. "It was abandoned and looted all of the time and so a lot of the items we would have liked to have kept or had access to are gone.”
Other memorabilia from Route 66, such as items from the former Pig Hip Museum, will be featured, Ladd said. The Pig Hip, a once-popular eatery in Broadwell that was turned into a museum, was destroyed by fire in March 2007.
“We will also feature some memorabilia from some important Route 66 lodging locations and also some famous people from Lincoln and Logan County,” he said. “We want to add as much local flavor to this museum as we can.”
Funding from the museum is expected to come from donations, a membership program and merchandise proceeds, Ladd said.