“The Mill Restaurant in Lincoln, Illinois, is a prime example of early American roadside architecture, and is one of the few buildings from the era still standing. The restaurant was first opened on Route 66 in 1929 under the name of the Blue Mill. The eatery was constructed by local contractors in the shape of a small Dutch windmill with sails on the front. It was white with blue trim, with continuously turning sails decorated with lights.
In 1945 an army barrack from Camp Ellis was attached to the back of the building to accommodate a restaurant, bar, and dance hall. It was then that the entire building was painted red and renamed The Mill. One of the restaurant’s claims to fame was its fried schnitzel. The Mill also offered a display of strange objects to attract and entertain customers: a mechanical leg kicked its way through a hole in the ceiling; four life-sized figures, a suit of armor, and a 20-pound stuffed catfish were on display; and a basket above the bathroom door – when opened – would blast a loud siren throughout the restaurant.
The Mill closed in 1996 and stood deteriorating for many years. 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. The foundation worked with the City of Lincoln to save the building from the wrecking ball and gain title to the property. The foundation has been working to restore the National Register-eligible property to a museum and visitor center ever since. A NPS grant in 2008 helped with structural repairs. The current grant will provide accessibility to the building including an entrance and bathroom. The original basket and loud siren that once adorned the bathroom door will also be restored.”
Del Rhea’s Chicken Basket Neon Sign Restoration Project Location: Hinsdale, Illinois Total Grant amount: $34,600
“The Chicken Basket began in the 1930s as a lunch counter attached to a service station in then- rural Hinsdale, Illinois. This mix and match of functions was typical for Route 66 establishments, which often operated on very thin profit margins that required them to be creative in attracting customers. Legend has it that in the late 1930s two local farm women offered a deal to original owner Irv Kolarik, who was looking to expand his food menu. They would reveal their excellent fried chicken recipe to Mr. Kolarik and his customers if he would promise to buy the necessary chickens from them. To sweeten the deal the women offered to teach him how to actually fry the chicken. Soon, the service station was history and the Chicken Basket was born.
The restaurant we see today was built in 1946 adjacent to the original location of the 1930s station. The one-story brick building was constructed in a no-nonsense, utilitarian commercial style of the immediate postwar period. Overall, the restaurant retains much of its original 1946 appearance and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The restaurant has a flat, steel roof that did double duty in the 1950s; to attract customers, Mr. Kolarik flooded the roof in winter and hired youths to ice skate on top of the building.
The restaurant flourished, but like many other successful businesses along Route 66, the Chicken Basket faced a serious challenge with the coming of the interstate in 1962. However in 1963, Delbert (Dell) Rhea, a savvy Chicago businessman, purchased the restaurant and turned things around through aggressive advertising aimed at Chicago’s expanding suburban population as well as Route 66 travelers. Today the restaurant continues to flourish. NPS grant funds will assist with restoration of the neon sign.”
Sprague’s Super Service Rehabilitation Project Location: Normal, Illinois Total Grant amount: $31,398
“The brainchild of William W. Sprague, the two-story, Tudor Revival style Sprague’s Super Service on Route 66 in Normal, Illinois, was a combination cafe, filling station, and service station, built toward the beginning of the Depression to provide service and food to travelers. The second story of the building provided housing for both Mr. Sprague and for the service station attendant.
The Sprague’s Super Service is an excellent model of preservation through partnership. In 2003, the current owner began the preservation process by listing the property on the National Register of Historic Places. The owner then applied for grant funds from the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation program to develop a preservation plan and to address urgent needs/repairs. With the preservation plan in hand, the owner was able to appeal to the City of Normal for additional funds to assist with repairs to the roof and heating system. Because of this positive track record, the owner next applied for and received additional grant funds for heating and air conditioning work from the Illinois State Tourism Department. In addition, the owner arranged for volunteer work days at the station involving the Illinois Route 66 Association. In 2011, the building was designated as a local landmark by the Town of Normal, and in 2016, the town voted to acquire the property to secure is preservation and protection. Now known as Ryburn Place, the goal is to open the property as a Route 66 visitor center.
Following a preservation plan prepared in 2009 a new roof and bathrooms have been installed, and the historic, wood frame windows and doors have been rehabilitated. The NPS grant will help repair and stabilize the exterior stucco and masonry and rehabilitate the last of the windows.”
For additional information, visit https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/rt66/2016-cost-share-grants-announced/, or search the National Park Service, Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program grant database at http://ncptt.nps.gov/rt66/grant-projects/.