The Mill in Lincoln opens as a Route 66 museum

On Saturday, despite all-day rain, several hundred people came out to celebrate the grand reopening of The Mill as a Route 66 museum. Local officials, Illinois state representatives, Route 66 Association of Illinois officers, staff and board members of Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, officers and members of the Mill's restoration and preservation group, media, Route 66 enthusiasts, and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner packed the building for the ribbon-cutting and brief speeches.


An exterior shot of The Mill shows off its restoration and its four-sail windmill on a rainy Illinois day.

The festivities began with a parade of about a dozen vehicles beginning at Kickapoo and Pekin Streets in downtown Lincoln and following an old alignment of Route 66 to the Mill. Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway project manager, former Logan County Tourism Director, and Mill supporter Geoff Ladd led the parade in his vehicle. I drove up to Lincoln from Edwardsville, stopped briefly at the Mill, and then arrived downtown in time to line up as the fifth vehicle in the parade. An Army truck joined the variety of cars and trucks. 


Rain continued to fall in downtown Lincoln as we waited to kick off the parade.

We parade drivers parked and entered the Mill. Many people had arrived and were perusing the exhibits and gift shop. People kept coming, and in lieu of an outdoor ribbon-cutting ceremony, everyone crowded into the building to get out of the persistent rain.


A large crowd assembled inside The Mill.


Geoff Ladd (L) worked for 11 years to get the Mill restored and reopened. Illinois Rep. Tim Butler (R) is a strong supporter of Illinois Route 66, and we're happy to see him at so many events. Rep. Tim Butler introduces bill to create IL Route 66 Centennial Commission That's me in the center.

By the time the Governor arrived, it was difficult to even walk through the crowd. Video and audio set-up was ready, reporters had their cameras in hand, and everyone was ready for the ceremonies to begin.


Final tweaks to the video setup were made before Governor Rauner and other dignitaries arrived.

Remarks were given by Governor Bruce Rauner,  Geoff Ladd and Bill Kelly of Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway, Illiinois Representative Tim Butler, Hal Smith on behalf of Representative Darin LaHood, outgoing Lincoln Mayor Marty Neitzel, incoming Lincoln Mayor Seth Goodman, Route 66 Association of Illinois Preservation Chairman John Weiss, and Bob Wilmert of the Logan County Route 66 Heritage Preservation group. The green satin ribbon was cut to much applause. 


Geoff Ladd, Gov. Rauner, Bob Wilmert, and others prepared to cut the ribbon!

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gov. Rauner and other dignitaries continued their Route 66 tour, attending a Bike Blessing at the Zero Tolerance bar in downtown Lincoln.

The new "Four Sails" gift shop (named for the four sails of the windmill) stayed busy selling merchandise. T-shirt designer Marie Fiedler of Monticello, author John Weiss of Wilmington, and yours truly were on hand to assist with t-shirt purchases and to autograph books.


The Four Sails gift shop stayed busy all afternoon, selling merchandise displayed on the original bar. Shop co-managers Marla Blair and Nancy Saul are behind the counter.


The tradition of the Byway hood-signing at events continues! This one was set up in the corner of the gift shop.

The restaurant opened as the Blue Mill in 1929, and in the 1940s an Army barracks was added on to the back to serve as a dance hall. The Mill remained a favorite place to eat and gather for many years, but the eatery did not escape the general decline of businesses along Route 66 and closed in 1996. After standing closed for years, Geoff Ladd, ably assisted with other dedicated individuals, established an effort to "Save The Mill." After 11 years of work, fund raising, benefits, donations and donated work, this grand reopening event was sweet success for all those involved. Read the history of The Mill.

Donations of memorabilia have been flowing in to fill out the exhibits. The Mill now has collections on display from not only its own history, but from the Pig Hip Restaurant in Broadwell and the Tropics in Lincoln.


A collection of memorabilia from Ernie Edwards' well-loved Pig Hip Restaurant is on display.

This classic jukebox stands in the corner of the Four Sails gift shop.

Hand-written "Coonhound Johnny" song written by Grant Fletcher. "Coonhound Johnny" Schwenoha was the infamous father of Vince Schwenoha, owner of the Tropics Restaurant.

Singer-musician Jeff Cordes performed during most of the afternoon, making sure to include hit songs such as "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66." Route 66 friends and enthusiasts visited, enjoyed the displays, swapped stories, shopped for t-shirts and other merchandise, and posed for pictures.


Singer-musician Jeff Cordes performed during the afternoon in front of a historic Mill sign.


Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Executive Director Bill Kelly, t-shirt designer Marie Fiedler, and I posed in front of Marie's t-shirt display.

The event produced plenty of media coverage, including from the Lincoln Courier The Mill starts new life as Route 66 museum, WICS News Channel 20 Gov. Rauner celebrates Route 66 in Lincoln, and in Ron Warnick's Route 66 News The Mill in Lincoln reopens after 21-year hiatus.

And that long bar in the dance hall? It's now the merchandise display counter for the Four Sails gift shop! The Mill is now open Tuesday through Saturday. Check out ways you can Support the Mill!