Patron questions often lead the staff of the Archives to discover new and interesting things about buildings that we may pass by every day. One recent example is the building currently occupied by the Silvercreek Restaurant at 402 North Race Street in Urbana. How long has this building existed and what was its original use?

This particular question had a fortuitous answer in the stacks here at the Archives in the form of a student paper written by Joel D. Dolbeck for J. S. Garner’s Historic Preservation class at the University of Illinois in April of 1993. The paper stated that the building was constructed in 1915 by the S. E. Huff Lumber Company and was used as a planing mill.

A scan of the 1915 Sandborn map of Urbana, IL showing the planing mill.
1915 Urbana, IL Map, Sanborn Map Company, New York, p. 3.

We can see here in the 1915 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map that indeed this is the first time this structure appeared. Although we cannot say definitively that the structure was built in 1915, we can safely estimate its date of construction between 1909 (the previous Sanborn map where there was a wooden structure on the property) and 1915.

Advertisement for S.E. Huff & Co. Lumber Company from the 1914 city directory.
Champaign and Urbana Illinois City Directory, 1914, Chas. M. Samson, Publisher, Bloomington.

S. E. Huff Lumber Company existed prior to the planing mill, and you can find many of their ads in local directories like the one seen here from 1914.

1915 Sandborn map of Urbana, IL showing the S.E. Huff & Co. lumber yard and planing mill.
1915 Urbana, IL Map, Sanborn Map Company, New York, p. 2.

When researching this question, some confusion has set in due to the differences in street addresses listed in the city directories, in ads, and from receipts. We can see in the 1915 Sanborn map above that the S. E. Huff Lumber Company owned property on the opposite side of Race Street as well and actually owned this property prior to the planing mill that would become Silvercreek. It is our hypothesis that Huff owned multiple properties in this vicinity, which may explain why street numbers of their business varied.

A color photograph of the brick building that now houses Silvercreek Restaurant, taken sometime between 1979 and 1989, when it was the Millhouse Centre..
Millhouse Centre, Millhouse Centre (Urbana, Ill.) Photographs Envelope.

According to Dolbeck’s paper, the planing mill was vacant from 1920 until 1938 when the basement was leased to the Harry Gill Sporting Goods Company. Urbana Laboratories used the building as a storage facility from 1957 to 1979. Then Bill Evans purchased the building, which was renovated to become the Millhouse Centre, a lanscaping, crafts, and wood stove sales company.

A color photograph of a brick building under construction.
Silvercreek Restaurant construction, 1989, Silvercreek (Urbana) Photographs Envelope.

The building was purchased by Allen Strong for approximately $238,000 in 1989. He was the primary architect, contractor, and foreman for the extensive renovations that took place on the building in order to become the restaurant that it is today.

Invitation to the Silvercreek Restaurant grand opening.
Inside of the invitation for the Silvercreek Restaurants grand opening.
Silvercreek Restaurant grand opening invitation, Silvercreek (Urbana) Vertical File Folder

The restaurant opened in 1990 with a grand opening celebration on September 12.

The evolution of the structure at 402 North Race Street is just one example of the ways local buildings have been transformed and reinvented throughout Urbana’s history.

-Kati Haskins

Archives Assistant