Ernie Edwards, longtime owner of the Pig Hip restaurant along Route 66 in Broadwell, Ill., died in his sleep Wednesday night at age 94, according to a news release from the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County.
Edwards died at St. Clara’s Manor in Lincoln, Ill. He had recently been moved from his Broadwell home, next to the Pig Hip grounds, to the nursing home.
Edwards ran the Pig Hip from 1937 to 1991. This informative website — a review of the book “Pig Hips on Route 66” — gives a hint on why the restaurant was so named:
He invented the pig-hip sandwich. Ernie says this sandwich was made from fresh ham (not cured), and he claims that the ham came only from the left hip — never, never the right hip. Ernie claims this distinction was part of the secret of the Pig-Hip’s success (sandwich and restaurant). The other part of the sandwich secret was his special sauce. Ernie’s sandwich motto was–“it made its way by the way it’s made.” […]
Ernie found an old restaurant on Route 66 in Broadwell for sale, its owner rumored to be a moonshiner. It was known as Wolf’s Inn. With a loan of $150 from his dad, Ernie at the age of 24 bought Wolf’s Inn and renamed it the Harbor Inn because the wallpaper had images of boats and anchors. The Harbor Inn was open for mid-day plate lunches that included ham and beans with corn bread and beef and noodles. “He started selling cold beer by the bottle before he found out that he needed a liquor license. He quickly applied for and was granted a state and Federal liquor license. He was (and still is) the only person in Broadwell with a liquor license” (p. 29). […]
While Ernie’s brother, Joe, worked the filling station, their mother helped Ernie with the restaurant. They began to experiment with new menu items to give variety to the locals who often ate chicken at home and wanted other kinds of food in restaurants. Ernie’s mother, Naomi, had worked for Ray of Ray’s chili, and she began to make her own chili for the restaurant. Naomi also encouraged Ernie to try making ham sandwiches. […]
The book describes how the pig-hip sandwich was prepared from 20-pound fresh hams that were baked for a certain number of hours at a specific temperature. “One of his most popular items, naturally, was the ‘Pig-Hip’ Special, which came with a Pig-Hip sandwich, French fries and Jell-O salad and cost 65 cents” (p. 35).
The Pig Hip sandwich became so popular, Edwards was persuaded to change the name of the restaurant.
Even when Route 66 was decommissioned and taken over by Interstate 55 as a main artery, the Pig Hip continued to thrive. So famous was his restaurant, it received prominent mention in the Wikipedia entry about Broadwell and was visited by former president Jimmy Carter, pro golfer Arnold Palmer, and other celebrities.
It was only Edwards’ advancing age — and his aging restaurant equipment — the prompted him to close the business and retire.
For a few years, the Pig Hip reopened as a museum. However, the building was destroyed in a fire in 2007. A historical marker was installed on the site later. And Edwards continued to entertain tourists at his nearby home, until his recent move into a nursing facility.
In 1990, Ernie was among the first to be inducted into the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame. His induction plaque is on display at the Information Station office in Lincoln, at 1555 Fifth St.
Geoff Ladd, executive director of the Logan County tourism bureau, said Edwards made an impact on local Route 66 tourism:
“It was Ernie who insisted that I step up to the plate to save The Mill (an iconic Route 66 restaurant in Lincoln, IL). What I learned is you don’t say ‘no’ to Ernie – and he was right about saving The Mill,” said Ladd.
Ladd noted that efforts are underway to revitalize the Pig Hip sign in Broadwell and along with the marker that is in place, the site will become a memorial to Edwards. Pig Hip artifacts will eventually be on display at The Mill when it opens as a museum. Edwards will also be remembered at this year’s Route 66 Association Hall of Fame Banquet in Lincoln on June 9th.
Edwards is survived by his wife, Francis, and many relatives. Arrangements are pending at Fricke-Calvert-Schrader Funeral Home in Lincoln.
UPDATE: The Springfield State Journal-Register posted a story tonight. One excerpt:
Lincoln resident Nancy Saul, retired LifeStyles editor for The Courier in Lincoln, interviewed Edwards on several occasions through the years.
“Ernie Edwards was a man who knew how to bloom where he was planted,” Saul said Thursday. “Not everyone would have considered running a restaurant in Broadwell, Illinois, an exciting career, but Ernie made the most of it. He was a purveyor not only of food, but in the style of P.T. Barnum, also the high jester of roadside humor and tall tales.”
The Bloomington Pantagraph wrote of the Pig Hip:
“It’s mom, pop and apple pie — not Applebee’s,” John Weiss, then chairman of the Route 66 Association of Illinois’ preservation committee, said in 2003. “It’s pig hip and pecan pie.”
And according to the obituary posted later today, visitation will be 4-7 p.m. Monday at Fricke-Calvert-Schrader Funeral Home in Lincoln. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the funeral home. Burial will be in New Union Cemetery in Lincoln, with full military rites by Lincoln American Legion Post #263.