Years ago in the 1940s, Janice Steffens’ family ran the local car hop, short-order food pit stop. Hamburgers, malts, shakes. You know, early fast food.
It was called The Dutch Mill, a small, square building without any frills; it sat where Millers’ Corner is today. And out front was a small version of a Dutch mill. No one knows what sparked the idea for the name; it just seemed to fit. “It was named The Dutch Mill, I think, just as kind of a theme,” Steffens recalls. Her mother, Meurice Doran, ran the business; she made blue and white uniforms for Steffans and coworkers to wear, decorated with a Dutch mill pattern.
Steffans worked there as a teenager, delivering customers’ their meals to the vehicles. They did so because there was no place to sit inside. That didn’t come for a couple years when her parents sold The Dutch Mill to her grandparents Slim and Olive Coffrin in the early 1950s.
They, in turn, added living quarters on one end of the buildings and a breakfast/coffee bar on the other end, as well as a drive-through window. It had become a full-on burger joint. And in the background, stood the Dutch mill.
In 1959, after a Sidney resident showed interest in expanding the business, the Coffrins sold The Dutch Mill to Bill Wilkinson, who added a dining room and game room; he also expanded the living quarters as a rental unit. The restaurant, meanwhile, was a local hangout spot. “It became a gathering place for all the high school games. Whenever [school] let out, it seemed like every kid came out there.”
Back then, The Dutch Mill was next to a motel and drive-in movie theater, which were good for business. Wilkinson kept it for 20 years before selling it to a friend from Glendive. And in the background, stood the Dutch mill.
Fast forward to 2000. Sidney resident Greg Miller purchased the property that had become run down to make way for a convenience store/gas station. The Dutch Mill building still stood but was dilapitated after years of wear and tear. Miller tore it down, leaving only the apartment. And with the tear-down, was the original Dutch mill which had been in disrepair.
Miller, a decedent of Danish immigrants to eastern Montana (millers by trade), had the mill rebuilt, but rather than a Dutch version, he went with a Danish mill replica. It seemed to fit. After all, Miller…miller…a mill. “I just kind of wanted to keep that theme going,” he said. That one stood for about 12 years until it was blown to smithereens earlier this summer. He says the mill was hit twice – once on a car chase and once by a driver traveling too fast – on the same night.
“It was devastating,” Miller said, recalling the call from police in the early morning hours of July 4. “I thought they had just nicked it or something, but it was absolutely flat.”
For the first time in a long time, the spot where the mill sat so unassuming, became barren. The public quickly took notice. There was sentimental value behind it. The Millers heard from around 100 people who said they wanted to see it rebuilt. Millers’ Corner and Sidney just isn’t the same without it, some said.
A few days after the ruins, Miller was approached by a construction worker from Georgia who offered to rebuild it with the $7,000 of insurance money. It took a little more than a month, but when it was finished, there stood a 30-foot Danish mill (about three times smaller than the actual structure), reminiscent of Miller’s ethnic roots.
Steffans, Wilkinson and Miller say they’re happy to see the structure again in its stately form, adding to a growing chorus from the public who comment about its return. It is, after all, a distinctive feature. “I think it’s great,” Wilkinson said. “I mean, it really became a landmark for years, and it is again now.”