by Gemma Tennyson-
Living in Edwardsville for the last four years has really made me realize the effort put in by the communities to preserve historic buildings. In the last four years in Edwardsville I have learned about the historic Benjamin Stephenson House, the historic residential area of LeClaire, and much more about the city’s history starting in the early 1800s. All of these places have been under revitalization in the last decade.
I know there is much more being done in Edwardsville than I can keep track of, but over the last ten to fifteen years there have been many changes. Eleven years ago, the city of Edwardsville was able to buy the historic Benjamin Stephenson house after it had been a fraternity house since 1982. Even before that, many others had owned and changed the historic building. They were able to historically restore it from the archival material from Madison County. The building that houses the Madison County Historical Society and Archives is a historic building that continues to be preserved for use of the space. The first trading post in Madison County still has a standing wall inside old Rusty’s Restaurant and Bar. The latest example is of the Wildey Theater re-opening for the public fully restored to former glory. All of these places are being preserved, but some more actively than others.
I grew up in a more rural area that did not make much of an effort to preserve anything historic or really inform residents about the town’s history. Edwardsville was quite a refreshing change for me. I see much more of an effort to preserve and educate. Some communities are more diligent about keeping their history preserved as well as physical structures.
A while back I began to think what could make this area strive for preservation while other communities don’t. One of the main issues I believe is funding. Smaller communities don’t have as much money, but there is a small amount of grant money for smaller local historical preservation. I know that it can’t be easy to find funding for preservation. Many communities are trying to find money but are unable or stop trying. I think there can always be a starting point. My hometown can’t seem to find the money to help preserve their history, but they have a fundraiser to send the local cheerleaders to camp. Even a small fundraiser can give local historical societies a start.
I think many communities don’t believe that doing historical preservation is a worthy cause, or that they will have the support. Local history can not only help bring money to communities but also help bring communities together. I think that more communities urban or rural can benefit from preserving their history. There just needs to be a small group or historical society that is willing to work for it.