Pillsbury Mills

Pillsbury Mills and the C&IM rail yard in 1952 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Pillsbury Mills and the C&IM rail yard in 1952 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

The Pillsbury baking products company opened a flour mill east of 11th Street at about Philips Avenue in 1930. The company added facilities for mixed prepared foods and bakery mixes in 1950, and the complex employed 1,500 people by 1955.

The plant began with capacity to produce 2,000 barrels of cake flour a day, but Pillsbury officials already had plans to double its size and output within five years. Although the company imported about 40 experienced millers to operate the plant, most of its 300 initial workers came from Springfield.

“Officials in Minneapolis have visions of this being the hub-plant of the entire organization, because of the ideal location as regards transportation,” the Illinois State Journal reported.

A $1 million plant expansion, formally opened in July 1949, allowed the Springfield operation to produce donut and cake mixes for institutions like hotels and restaurants.

That expansion made the Springfield facility “one of the most modern of its kind in the world,” The State Journal-Register’s John Reynolds reported in 2011. “Flour was transferred pneumatically from the mills to the plant and stored in bins. Sugar was brought in on special railroad cars, then carried pneumatically to its own storage bins, where it was held until needed.

“The plant’s products included pre-mixed ingredients for making cakes, pancakes, biscuits, muffins, pie crusts, gingerbread and other baked goods.”

Pillsbury plant in 2014

Pillsbury plant in 2014

Pillsbury reduced employment in Springfield through the 1970s and ’80s and finally sold the plant to Cargill Inc. in 1991. Cargill closed the facility in 2001.

Ley Properties Management purchased the former Pillsbury complex — 20 buildings and warehouses and 30 grain silos — in 2008 and began a salvage operation. The site was sold again about six years later to a partnership, P Mills LLC, owned by Joseph Chernis III and his son, Joseph IV, and Kenneth Crain of Sherman.

P Mills began demolition, but the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency accused the partners of improper asbestos removal. As of early 2017, Joseph Chernis IV faced federal charges connected to the removal. Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA announced it was stepping in to eliminate the asbestos, a project estimated to cost $1.8 million.

Unless removed, a U.S. EPA spokesman said, the asbestos posed a danger to the neighborhood, and no other entity appeared ready to take on the work.

“There’s asbestos on the floor, asbestos on pipes and asbestos in bags,” a spokesman told The State Journal-Register.

More information and photos: Springfield Business: A Pictorial History, Edward Russo, Melinda Garvert and Curtis Mann, 1998schs logo (2)

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.



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13 Responses to Pillsbury Mills

  1. Tom Jagiela says:

    Is there anyone that knows what happened to the lobby mural in the Springfield Pillsbury Plant. I worked there in the 80’s. I would like to see it again.

  2. Tom Jagiela says:

    Thanks for the reply. It would be a shame if it was destroyed. It was probably 40 feet long and 15 feet wide. It was grain to flour depiction.

  3. zach roberts says:

    hey tom if im correct I was there and took a walk around the whole building when the brought the metal part of the main building down Im pretty sure it was destroyed.

  4. editor says:

    Zach: Thanks for the note. You may be right, but when I was in there a couple months ago, looking for the mural, the place where it had hung was still in one piece. It looked to me like the mural had been removed. But still, if so, nobody knows where it went.

  5. Herb wilkinson says:

    Tom, Steve Cartwright stayed on with Cargil, he told me a crew came and took it back to Minneapolis. The place has been gutted by ley metals and now they have been stopped by the EPA for asbestos violations. Its shame a place once so alive now waiting for the wrecking ball.
    Herb Wilkinson

    • editor says:

      Herb: Thanks for the update on the mural. (For the record, Ley Metals is no longer involved with Pillsbury salvage. The last contractor, whose work indeed was stopped because of the asbestos content of the buildings, was Midwest Demolition of Springfield.)

      Thanks for reading.

  6. Michael Hoekstr says:

    I am trying to figure out a friends birthfather. He was put up for adoption around 1952 and was told his birthdad worked at Pillsbury in Springfield, his birth mother also worked there. I believe his birth dad’s last name may have been Bird or Vogel or Fogle? My friend was born around 1952 so his dad would have worked there then and apparently was a supervisor of some sort.

    • editor says:

      Sir: If he hasn’t done so already, your friend can get a copy of his original birth certificate. There’s information here on that process.

      Otherwise, if you’re in the Springfield area or can come here, your best approach might be to look for the names you mention in city directories from the early 1950s. The directories give occupations for most of those listed. Directories are available in the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library, Springfield’s municipal library.

      Thanks for reading.

  7. Michael U says:

    My dad worked there his whole life. He recently told me about a sub basement beneath the main mill, not the ones beneath the silos. But another one beneath where they removed the asbestos. He said no-one ever really went down there I am very curious as to what purpose they served. Sorry this is not a reply but would like to know why they are there..

  8. Jill e says:

    How to find out who worked there I think my grandma did but am not sure.

    • editor says:

      Jill: Your grandmother’s obituary might have mentioned where she worked. Springfield city directories also might say. Call or email the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library, the Springfield public library. They can check those sources for you. Good luck.

  9. Chuck Moe says:

    Does anyone know the name of the Plant manager who I believe came from Texas? We purchased the house he built at 3108 Wildcat Point in Panther Creek ? We are trying to locate the name of the builder that constructed that house. Thank You

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