Sometimes when you least expect it you find a hidden gem in your own backyard. I have gone by this location for years and a variety of different restaurants have come and gone. So when a former manager of mine from my corporate days called me to have a friendly dinner and catch up on our lives I suggested we try Gray's Mill in Montgomery
A little history is in order - Gray's Mill is a registered national landmark and was built between 1851 and 1853 by Daniel Gray. It's one of the best examples of 1850 mill construction in the United States and is one of the oldest structures in the Chicagoland area at its original location and original condition.
Daniel Gray as a veteran of the War of 1812 and migrated from New York in the fall of 1835. The Fox River area where I currently live, had just ben acquired from the peaceful Potawatomi in 1833 after the bloody Blackhawk War. At that time, Illinois was the untamed West, Texas and California were still part of Mexican and Andrew Jackson was president.
Daniel Gray acquired most of the land surrounding the west bank of the Fox River where the Mill is located. He created a ford across the Fox River for a stagecoach line to cross. During the 1830's this was the only crossing used for stagecoaches along the existing Indian trails to move passengers and mail from Fort Dearborn to Galena. After that he opened a taver, inn and a post office. This was done before Chicago was incorporated in 1837.
In the 1850's the Chicago-Aurora railroad came through Gray's land. In 1852 he began building the gristmill with his son-in-law, Vine Watkins and they named it Montgomery Mills. They used the water of the Fox River to grind wheat to be shipped less costly via the railroad to Chicago.
The Mill was made by hand of three foot thick river bottom limestone with the internal structure made of local white oak timber. Instead of building a traditional mill Gray ran the water under the mill, turned the wheel horizontally to the water's surface and created one of the first turbines!
Unfortunately, Daniel Gray died unexpectedly in 1854 and his nephew, Ralph, took over the business.
During the Civil War (1861), the mill supplied flour to the Union Army at Camp Hammond. Some of the brand nams for flour were Daisy and White Rose which existed until the turn of the century. As much larger Midwest mills were built Gray's mill became less competitive.
In the 1890's Hinckley & Schmitt used the mill as a bottling facility because of the great artesian wells in the Montgomery area. You can still see one of these wells on the property.
In 1907 the Mill was converted again to grind mica which is used in paint manufacturing and for heating insulation. Mica was also used in rubber tires to disperse heat and many racing cars would stop at the Mill to have mica inserted into their tires before heading to the Indianapolis auto speedway.
In 1922 the building finally closed as an operating mill. A diverse group of businesses utilized the building for many years until it was abandoned.
In the 1980's the building was purchased by the old Mill Group and fully rehabbed in 1999. Only private funds were used which exceeded 2 million dollars.
With four floors and a loft and original timbers set by hand and only wooden pegs used this is a historical sample of workmanship that is no longer used.
The General Manager & Sommelier is Debra Metzinger and the Executive Chef is Robin Corbitt. The menu has salads, steaks, chicken, chops, soup and seafood. Some Home style favorites that you don't normally find such as Pan Handle Brisket, Yankee Pot Roast, St. Louis Spare Ribs and Cajun Shrimp are sure to become favorites.
The current restaurant is elegant, understated and a hidden delight. Whether a special ocassion, business dinner, or just a nice evening out with family and friends, you won't be disappointed.
Call 630-906-1492 for reservations or visit www.graysmill.com . Located at 211 N. River St. Montgomery, IL - across from the Village Hall.