Lincoln aldermen give “nod of approval” to cash request for the Mill on Route 66

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[March 31, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Tuesday evening, Geoff Ladd or the Route 66 Foundation in Lincoln addressed Lincoln Aldermen during their workshop session. Ladd was there to request that the city support the Mill with an award of no more than $12,000, to assist with the installation of an ADA accessible bathroom and back entry into the Mill.

Ladd said he needed an immediate answer as the funding from the city, if given, needed to be included in a grant application that is due to be submitted no later than April 1st.

At the end of his presentation, Mayor Marty Neitzel told the council that while they could not vote at a workshop session, if they chose to support the request they could give their “nod of approval” and do the official vote next Monday night.


In his presentation, Ladd offered up some history of the Mill, explaining that it was first named the Blue Mill, and began as only the Dutch Windmill shaped building currently at the front of the structure. He explained the addition of the World War II Army barrack turned the little sandwich stop into a restaurant, bar, and dance hall came later.

Ladd recounted that he had become involved with saving the Mill from destruction in 2005. At that time, the building had been abandoned since 1996. When he took on the project, the building was in terrible disrepair and had been vandalized at various times. All of the windows were broken out, and the sails on the front of the building were destroyed. There were also issues with the roof and the foundation and many other problems.

Ladd said it has been ten years, and it has taken a lot of work to get the Mill to the condition it is today, but he and the large mass of volunteers who have stayed dedicated to the project are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Ladd is anticipating that the Mill on Route 66 will open as a Route 66 Museum in 2017.

Ladd went through the list of repairs that have been done including the replacement of all the windows, a new roof, a new sail, restoration of the hardwood floors and more. He gave accolades to current Foundation President Bob Wilmert, who raised $6,000 for the installation of insulation, drywall and electrical work on the ground floor of the building.

Ladd says that the plan is to hold a grand opening of the museum in April of 2017. But, before it can legally open, the museum must have an ADA accessible restroom, and it must have an ADA accessible entry.

Ladd said when he took over the project there was an addition on the north side of the building that had been the kitchen for the restaurant, and another addition on the east end that had been the restroom area. He said both of those additions were in such terrible shape that they could not be saved. What the foundation plans to do is build the addition back on to the east end. It will be a 10 feet by 20 feet area with a portion dedicated as the restroom, and the remainder being the back entryway.

Ladd said he is applying for a grant through the National Park Service to assist with the construction costs, but it won’t cover 100 percent of the cost. He was there to ask the city to cover the cost of the water and sewer installation. He told the council that the total cost of the project would be $20, 219.78. The sewer and water portion of the project will cost $11,232.78. He said Matthews Construction of Lincoln will be doing the work, and noted they are local and also the firm that did the restoration of the Railsplitter Covered Wagon when it was severely damaged in a wind storm a few years ago.

Ladd also talked about the value of the Mill as a Route 66 tourist attraction in Lincoln. He noted that Bloomington has recently opened a Route 66 museum and that Litchfield also has a museum. Both are drawing in a large number of visitors annually. He said that he understood the focus of tourism to be bringing visitors into the area for overnight stays, but he said the stop-overs also had great value for the city and county.

He said that the collection of items for the museum was growing. He noted that the Mill was able to acquire the Crossroads Motel sign from the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital when, after purchasing the desolate motel in Lincoln, they demolished it recently. He also has the lighted and working sign from the Mill. He noted there is a collection of newspaper advertisements for the Mill dating back to 1928, and items from the Pig Hip in Broadwell, which was also a Route 66 icon.

Ladd reported that with the recent closing of Hallie’s on the Square, which was owned by the grandson of Mill owner Blossom Huffman, he had acquired some of the quirky items that were originally part of the uniqueness of the Mill.

Ladd said when the Mill does open as a museum the foundation will coordinate the open hours to coincide with the Postville Courthouse, but only during the tourist season from April to November. The Mill will be closed during the winter months. He said this would give visitors to Lincoln three opportunities to make scenic stops on Route 66 in town - Postville, the Mill, and the Railsplitter Wagon. Ladd noted that though the wagon does depict Abraham Lincoln, it truly is a Route 66 attraction because the trademark of Route 66 is its quirkiness.

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Once opened, Ladd said the Mill will continue to need about $3,000 a year to cover operating costs. He said there will be a gift shop in the Mill, and there will continue to be memberships with the foundation as well as local and online fundraisers to help cover those costs.

The Foundation will count on volunteers to man the museum during the tourist season.

Ladd said that the grant application he is working on was due to the National Park Service by April 1st. He was asking the council to commit to the $11,232.78 immediately so that he could include that information in the grant application. He said if they council approves the request he would need a letter stating such to go into the packet no later than Wednesday morning.

When the floor was open for discussion, Todd Mourning asked where this request would fit into the city budget. City Administrator Clay Johnson said that it would have to be written into the new fiscal budget for 2016-17.

Michelle Bauer commented on the dedication and perseverance of the Foundation and its volunteers in the 10-year-long endeavor. Later Rick Hoefle would echo that same sentiment. Ladd commented that it had been slow, in part due to the economic downfall in 2008. He said when the economy was in such poor condition, donations to the project all but stopped.

Jonie Tibbs recalled items that had been gathered together after the Mill had closed, including a braille menu that had been created for people who were visiting the Lincoln Developmental Center. She said she had acquired a few items and planned to give them to the Mill when it opened. Ladd said that items donated would be appreciated, and he also noted that the Mill would be happy to have items on loan, so if someone owns a piece and wants to retain ownership, they may loan it to the museum.

Speaking of the items he had recovered from Hallie’s, Ladd told the story of the basket in the bathroom. In the Mill, for many years, there was a wicker basket with a lid on it sitting in the bathroom. It was a test to see if people could pass by the basket without looking to see if there was anything inside. He said when people would open the lid a very loud horn would sound off that could be heard throughout the building. The basket brought fun and laughter to everyone in the building. Ladd said he was happy to say that the basket has been returned to the Mill in good working order and will be placed in the new restroom when the museum opens.

Noting again, that the back portion of the building is an old army barracks, Ladd said there is an additional long-term plan to refurbish the upstairs area. He said if and when that project comes about, he has talked with the Heritage in Flight Museum at the Logan County Airport about the many items they have in storage. The goal is to convert the upstairs portion of the building into a second museum with a World War II theme, utilizing items on loan from Heritage in Flight.

Ladd said that he was asking for the commitment from the city, even if he did not win the grant award. He said if the application is denied, he would ask the city not to back out on the dollars pledged, but to give the foundation volunteers time to work out a new plan for the balance of the money.

Neitzel had reminded the aldermen that they could not vote at a workshop, but they could give their nod of approval. As the conversation wound down, she asked if this should be placed on the agenda and the consensus appeared to be yes. Ladd asked if he could get a letter of support by Wednesday morning. Johnson said he could author the letter first thing.

Johnson also inquired about how the council wanted to word the letter. He suggested that there be an expiration date on the commitment, so it would not be stuck in the budget for an extended period. He suggested giving the Foundation two to three years to claim the money. The aldermen thought that would be appropriate.

Ladd said that if the Foundation wins the award, he will be notified in May and construction of the addition would take place in the early fall, approximately September.

[Nila Smith]

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