By DEBORAH BEHRENDS
FRANKLIN GROVE, Ill. — The Franklin Creek Grist Mill, and the state natural area in which it’s located, are hidden treasures. Located off of U.S. Route 38, northern Illinois’ portion of historic Lincoln Highway, the mill is identified with small directional signs pointing the way.
Visitors interested enough to travel off the beaten path are rewarded with lush grasslands, ancient trees of every species native to the area and wildflowers aplenty. The grist mill itself is a treasure, built with local money and local volunteers who still take great pride in their accomplishment.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Franklin Creek Area Preservation Committee secured donations of money and labor, along with help from the Franklin Grove FFA, to build roads, shelters, picnic tables, restrooms and more.
The community spirit remained strong for another decade after its inception as volunteers raised funds and labored to reconstruct an 1847 water-driven grist mill. The original mill, built by the Rev. Joseph Emmert and his son-in-law, Christian Lahman, was razed to make room for the new mill.
The way volunteer Rodney Morey tells the story, the project came about as the result of a group of residents who met in a local coffee shop most mornings.
“In their discussions someone asked how much it would take to get started. Don Baker estimated about $80,000. Henry Pruitt wrote a check for that amount to get the ball rolling,” Morey said.
The four-story mill has a four-ton waterwheel which powers pulleys and gears to turn the millstones, which grind corn such as the milling equipment on display.
Morey said each fall, about 500 pounds of organic corn is brought in, which takes four to five hours to grind. The cornmeal is then sold in the gift shop on the main floor of the building.
He also said the mill hosts an “Evening at the Mill” event. The dinner allows visitors to see the mill in operation. The special evening is scheduled for Oct. 15 and costs $20 per person.
For more information on the mill or the Evening at the Mill event, visit http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/PARKS/R1/FRANKLIN.HTM or call 815-456-2878.