Hawes Grain Elevator Museum
Hawes Grain Elevator Museum in Atlanta, Ill., is the only known restored elevator museum in the U.S.
The head house of the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator in Atlanta, Ill. The Hawes Elevator Museum has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is the only such structure to receive that title in Illinois.
Back in 1903, when the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator opened in Atlanta, Ill., or even in 1976, when the elevator closed its doors, the farmers who hauled grain there didn't dream that one day it would re-open as a museum.
The 55-foot-tall elevator with studded walls is the only such structure in Illinois listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Deane May, who spearheaded the building's restoration, knows of no other restored elevator museum in the U.S.
"It's very unusual to find a building this old that has not been upgraded and that still retains its original character," Deane said.
The elevator even has a historic location: Just one block off old Route 66.
J.H. Hawes built the 30,000-bushel capacity grain elevator along the Illinois Midland Railroad, which gave him access to east-west grain markets.
In the late 1980s when Deane learned that the Atlanta City Council might allow the local fire department to burn the old elevator as a training exercise, he mobilized the public to save the structure.
The Atlanta Historic Preservation Council organized and received permission from the city fathers to develop the elevator as a museum. The next step was to get the building listed on the National Register, a process that took about 10 months.
"I practically had to write a thesis on this elevator for the National Register application," Deane said. The designation was approved in 1991 because of the elevator's significance in the areas of commerce, transportation, and engineering.
In 1997, the preservation council received a $55,252 matching grant from the Illinois Bureau of Tourism to repair and restore the structure. That involved replacing the steel roof with slate shingles, and replacing rotten boards.
For more than 25 years, Deane had known about a 10 hp Fairbanks Morse Type Z gasoline engine made in Beloit, Wis., in 1920. But he had been unsuccessful in buying it. Finally, however, he persuaded the elderly owner to donate it to the museum.
The engine was originally sold to the nearby village of Minier in November 1920. The city paid $383.50 for the new engine, which was to be used to pump water into its water tower. In 1933, after Minier switched to electrical power, the pump was sold for $75 to Eminence Grain and Coal Co., which retired the engine in 1935.
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