Have you ever considered the cost of baking a cake? Eggs, yeast, and chiefly flour is involved. And nowadays you can get all those ingredients at your nearest grocer or super center for just a few dollars. But it wasn't always that way....
In the mid 19th century Flour wasn't available off a supermarket shelf in convenient packaged sizes. Back then you had to grow your own wheat or buy the grain from someone else. Then you would take it to a specialized facility that would slowly grind that grain down to flour. This facility was known as a Grist Mill. There was a time when there was a mill every few miles to serve the needs of what was a largely agrarian society, but as progress was made in shipping and in storage they slowly died off one by one until there are only a few survivors left.
In 1847 near Franklin Grove, IL. Joseph Emmert and Christian Lahman traveled from Maryland looking for the perfect spot to build a mill. Now two things are required for a good mill. An abundance of local materials for construction and a water source to drive the wheel that turns the gears and the millstone. They found such a site and began building their mill just half a mile away from the water source.
But in those days they didn't have tractors or bulldozers to dig the channel needed to bring the water to the mill. It all had to be dug out either by hand or with teams of horse driven plows and excavators. After weeks of back breaking work the channel was completed and water soon flowed over the great wheel, and the mill began operation.
Capable of producing both corn meal and wheat flour this mill was one of the largest in Lee county at the time. And even though it changed owners several times the mill ran successfully until the late 1890's when their water source started drying up and so the mill was closed and abandoned.
This might have been the end of the story but fast forward a century and a group of volunteers decided to not only save the mill but to keep it's story and original purpose alive. A group of volunteers assembled and built a completely new mill very near the site of the original structure. Turning it not only into a working grist mill, but also one where visitors can go inside and see for themselves just how their ancestors toiled for their daily bread. Because of their efforts, today the Franklin Creek mill is the only completely water driven mill in the entire state.
So when you stop off at the store for the ingredients to bake a cake for little Jimmy's birthday stop for a moment and reflect on how far we have come in terms of ease and convenience.
The mill is open for tours every Saturday and Sunday from the 1st of April thru the 1st of October and on occasional Friday's. The hours are from 12 noon to 4 pm. If you ever find yourself bored of Tv or just want to take a drive on a summer afternoon, consider a trip over to Lee county and Franklin Creek.