FLOUR MILL TO BROWNFIELD
The Pillsbury Flour Mill in Springfield, Illinois operated from 1930 to 2001. What began as a modern flour milling facility expanded into prepared mixes, artificial sweetener production, and a number of convenience-based food products. At its peak, it was third largest industrial employer in the city of Springfield. Pillsbury was purchased in a hostile corporate takeover in 1989, and the Springfield plant was soon sold to the privately-held agribusiness giant Cargill. That company reduced the workforce by 90% and shuttered a significant portion of the plant. The factory was closed in 2001.
Like many such facilities of the time, the Pillsbury plant contained large amounts of carcinogenetic asbestos, used as pipe wrap, coatings, flooring, and wall panels. Pillsbury conducted a survey of the hazardous material during the 1980s, and took steps to encase of the material to prevent it from becoming airborne. After the 1991 purchase, Cargill operated at a reduced capacity, sold many of the plant’s assets, and conducted another survey of the carcinogenic liability ahead. No further remediation was conducted, however, and when the plant was deemed unprofitable and obsolete in 2001, it was closed. In 2008, the 18-acre, 775,000 square foot factory complex was sold to a local scrap dealer for $250,000, or 1/16 of its assessed value three years earlier.
The asbestos remained in the buildings as they began to decay, and as they were severely damaged and partially dismantled by large-scale metal salvage activities. The property was sold to a second scrap dealer in 2014, and on a Sunday morning in October, a nine-story building laden with asbestos and other hazardous materials was “kneeled” by severing its steel supports. The building fell to the ground, and a cloud of toxic dust and debris passed through the surrounding neighborhood. The metals were sold for scrap. The salvors involved in the environmental mishandling of asbestos were prosecuted, and the EPA conducted a 3.25-million-dollar cleanup of the plant in 2017. However, the buildings continued to decay, were frequented by trespassers and copper thieves, and the abandoned factory's reputation loomed darkly in the community.
In 2020, a small group of socially and environmentally progressive individuals formed a not-for-profit with the purpose of implementing the cleanup of the 20-year abandoned flour mill. The four-year plan designed by Moving Pillsbury Forward (MPF) included the remediation and demolition of the massive facility with an eye toward responsible clean up, the maximum recycling of materials, and ongoing community outreach and support during the process.
In April 2023, Robert Mazrim, an artist with a professional background in archaeology, visited the site and recognized its impressive historic and aesthetic potential. He offered his services as curator, and organized a multi-faceted project to explore that potential during a pause in remediation and demolition activities. A number of history and art-related projects and programs followed – eventually christened The Pillsburied Project. The surprising success of those endeavors over the next ten months were entirely dependent on the remarkable enthusiasm, support, and patience of the Moving Pillsbury Forward team – and particularly the inexhaustible efforts of Chris Richmond and Polly Poskin.
Vintage doughboy variant,
found in the Pillsbury Plant.
Vintage safety sign graphic,
found in the Pillsbury Plant.