The 161-year-old Graue Mill could be producing authentic stone-ground cornmeal again by next week.
But it may cost officials at the museum and historic mill along York Road in Oak Brook double the $3,000 they originally planned for.
Grinding at the mill stopped earlier this month after a structural analysis found the gear system and heavy timber supports used in the process were unsafe.
The mill is owned by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District but operated by an independent board. As the only operating water wheel gristmill in the Chicago area, Graue Mill's primary source of revenue is the roughly $60,000 it brings in each season through the sale of cornmeal.
With grinding at a halt, officials say, the mill's viability is in danger.
Rus Strahan, a miller who serves as vice president of the museum board, said Wednesday he has located and is ready to purchase a $6,000 corn grinder that can do the job, but the museum board only authorized him to spend $3,000.
"I've done my research and in order to produce the quality of cornmeal we are known for, and for it to be stone-ground, we can't do it for $3,000," Strahan said. "If I can get the board to agree to the higher price point, I can be grinding quality corn by next week."
The forest preserve district is also working behind the scenes to get the mill up and running. As of late Wednesday, forest preserve staff and board members were talking to Strahan about how they could help.
"I'm very optimistic that we can work out a very good public-private partnership to help one of our greatest assets make it through the season," Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli said. "I'm only one commissioner, but I'm optimistic that at Tuesday's (forest preserve) meeting, we'll be willing, as a board, to support funding at least half of that $6,000 expense."
The historic Graue Mill was a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War and was added in 1975 to the National Register of Historic Places. Restored to reflect life in the mid- to late-1800s, it's a popular stop for shoppers seeking the cornmeal that long has been made at the site and for school groups interested in its historic significance.
But concerns about safety at the mill began surfacing earlier this year when experts were called to check out some hollowed-out spots in the flagstone floor near the mill, according to Kevin Horsfall, the forest preserve district's landscape architect supervisor.
More serious safety concerns materialized after the mill was closed for 11 days in mid-April when Salt Creek, which provides the power for the mill's water wheel, went over its banks and flooded the area.
The forest preserve also has authorized the spending of $7,800 to get engineers designing a temporary solution that would have the original portion of the mill up and running again.
Planning director Andrea Hoyt said she expects a plan will be ready by the end of July. The actual improvements could take significantly longer.
"I don't know if we have the ability to get any work done in-house. If we do, maybe we could get it done by the end of August," Hoyt told forest preserve commissioners Tuesday. "If it's the kind of work we need to bid out, it will be done by the end of September."