Huge turnout for Mill on 66 - Route 66 Museum Grand Opening

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[May 01, 2017]  LINCOLN - On Saturday, by noon at the Mill on 66 – Route 66 Museum Grand Opening it was standing room only – shoulder to shoulder people all there to witness the Grand Opening Ribbon cut for the new Route 66 Museum.

It has taken slightly more than a decade, but this past weekend, organizers and volunteers brought to a conclusion the long awaited revival of what was once a huge landmark on Route 66 in Lincoln.

The Mill first began as the Blue Mill and consisted only of the oddly shaped front section seen today with the four sails mounted predominately on the front. The Blue Mill was a simple sandwich stop where Route 66 travelers could pull in and enjoy a sandwich and a drink then head on up or down the road toward Chicago or St. Louis.

Later in its history, the Mill was enlarged with the back portion being a barracks from Camp Ellis. The eatery then transformed into a sandwich shop and a bar with some honky-tonk characteristics.

Owned by Blossom Huffman, the restaurant thrived, gaining the reputation of being the place to go for the best ever Schnitzel, and also the place to go to meet up with friends and enjoy an evening of good company.

When the Huffman’s were no longer able to manage the business, it closed. The Mill stood derelict for several years, and over time became an eyesore in Lincoln. The city council in Lincoln debated how to go about getting rid of the old worn down building. The owner of the property had said he would tear down the Mill, and planned to build self-storage buildings on the lot, but that didn’t appear to be happening.

It was in 2006, that a well-known Route 66 restaurant owner in Logan County, Ernie Edwards, whispered rather insistently in the ear of Geoff Ladd, the director of the then named Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County, that he – Ladd – had to do something to save the Mill.

Edwards owned the Pig Hip Restaurant just south of Lincoln in Broadwell. Also a very popular stop on Route 66, Edwards had run the restaurant for years, and had converted it into a museum in the final stages of its life. Edwards didn’t want to see the Mill go to the wayside. He recognized that the quirky and fun little stops along Route 66 were what the tourists wanted to see, hoped to find. Edwards knew that Lincoln’s Mill had a rich and colorful history that would draw people through the doors if were re-opened.

Ladd was up for the challenge, and the then owner of the property was apparently up for unloading the run-down building and property, because in that year, he and Ladd met and the property was sold to Ladd representing the Route 66 Heritage Foundation for a $10 bill.

It took more than a decade, but on Saturday, Ladd and the Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County members and volunteers lived up to Edwards dream which had become their own, and opened the doors of the new museum.

Saturday morning, as scores guests milled around the museum, there were more than a few who commented aloud to their companions and also to Ladd and the Foundation members that Edwards would be very proud of what has been accomplished.

As folks walked through the museum, they found that it is not just about the Mill, it offers a peak into the history of Route 66 in Logan County by featuring items from places such as the Tropics in Lincoln, the Pig Hip in Broadwell, and other places such as the old Crossroads Motel in Lincoln. It also features displays of colorful parts of the history of the Mill – the foot stuck in the ceiling, the wooden shoes worn by the son of the original owner on opening day of the Blue Mill, and Blossom Huffman’s purse – which Ladd said he felt was about like being able to say he had found Abraham Lincoln’s billfold!

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Fun items found in the museum include ‘Illie the Robot’ an eye-catching little robotic figure that was a mascot for Illico Oil in Lincoln. The little guy has lights and his head and arms are mechanical.

Another big find was the corner stone of the Mill that says the original building was built by Shoup Jones of Lincoln. There is also a core sample from Route 66, given to the museum by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

And, there is the very special Braille menu that was salvaged by the late George Dahmn while he and Lincoln Alderwoman Jonie Tibbs were looking through the building, checking for asbestos, after it had closed.

In the restoration, the foundation was also able to recover one complete booth from the Mill and it holds a very prominent location just inside the front door.

These are only a few of the great displays at the museum that will make it more than worthwhile for tourists to stop in and take a look around.

In addition to the museum, there is a large portion of the back room at the Mill that is designated to a Route 66 Souvenir or gift shop. The shop offers some outstanding Route 66 tee-shirts and sweatshirts, ceramic trivets, wooden jewelry boxes with Route 66 burned into their lids, and photo art featuring many Route 66 landmarks.

Ladd said that there will also be some interactive capabilities at the museum. The foundation is working with local website specialist David Doolin to create a Quick Reference or QR code system that can be used with ‘smart’ devices. Ladd said there will be QR codes placed on key items throughout the museum and when scanned with a phone the QR will bring up additional information and videos relating to the item scanned.

Finally, the museum acknowledges all those who have contributed to the restoration project through financial assistance. In the back room a large display dominates the farthest wall, showing all those who through the years have given money to the project. There is also a display from the Salt Creek ABATE recognizing its deceased members, as well as the plaque given to the organization as Mill Volunteers of the year in 2016.

The Mill on 66 will be open throughout the summer and early fall, Tuesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Ladd said that the Mill would follow the Postville Courthouse schedule, but at the same time is working toward expanding the hours.

[Nila Smith]

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