Kane County History: Geneva Remembers The Mill Race Inn

Kane County History: Geneva Remembers The Mill Race Inn

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum.

Remember when you could dine along the Fox River in Geneva?

The Little Traveler and The Mill Race Inn are two iconic businesses that put Geneva, IL, on the map. The Little Traveler is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but the Mill Race Inn closed in 2011.

Kate Raftery, who started The Little Traveler in 1922, encouraged friends Ann and Marjorie Forsythe, from Aurora to open a restaurant in the former blacksmith shop along the Fox River. In 1933, the Forsythe sisters opened The Mill Race Inn, featuring a stone fireplace with folding chairs and card tables on a screened porch.

The Mill Race Inn was open only from May through September because there was no heat in the building. Marjorie’s Doberman pincher, Rowdy, slept under the cashier desk and served as security

Kate Raftery advertised The Mill Race Inn in The Little Traveler Almanack newsletters with a mailing list including every state in the country. The Mill Race Inn quickly became famous.

In 1946, Ray Johns purchased The Mill Race Inn and brought in Malava Parke as manager. She cooked, baked and arranged flowers from seven in the morning until mid-afternoon. She would return in the evenings dressed to welcome guests. With Malava’s help, the business increased and eventually the dining room was expanded.

The Johns family operated the business until 2004. During those 40 years, the building changed with many additions, while keeping the core of the original blacksmith shop and the primary focus on wonderful food.

The entryway was enlarged, and the building was winterized. Decks were added along with rooms such as, the Duck Inn, the Mallard Room, the Mill Grill and the Gazebo.

The Mill Race Inn became a quintessential landmark in Geneva. It was where local civic groups hosted weekly meetings, and it’s where countless Geneva families celebrated birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries.

It was also a destination for out-of-town tourists to make a day trip to Geneva for shopping and dinning.

In 2004, the Mill Race Inn was purchased by the Roumeliotis family. Several floods, a tough economy and competition from franchise restaurants slowed business.

The Mill Race Inn closed in 2011, and the additions were torn down in 2016. The fate of the blacksmith shop remains unknown.

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