Tag Archives: Edwardsville

Local Historical Preservation

4 May

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.

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Choosing What to Remember

28 Apr

by Melissa Burns-

Not long ago I read an article online about historically important African American communities in the United States.  A few of them I had heard of, but several were new to me. I was particularly surprised to read about two of them, because they were located in Southwestern Illinois. Both towns were begun by free slaves and were also home to large numbers of runaway slaves. The towns were each integrated as well. But what really struck me was the different ways in which these two communities have been remembered. While one enjoys active local preservation efforts the other has been all but forgotten. This got me thinking. How do we decide what gets remembered and what gets forgotten? Is it simply a matter of luck that certain places and objects get preserved, or is a conscious choice made?

New Philadelphia, IL

The New Philadelphia Site

One of the nearby African American communities mentioned in the article was called New Philadelphia. Situated in Pike County, it was founded by a family of former slaves in 1836 and became an active, racially integrated town even before the outbreak of the Civil War. When the railroad was laid in the area, though, it bypassed New Philadelphia, and the town started to lose its population in the 1880s. Today, however, the site it once occupied is commemorated and preserved by both locals and archaeologists. Since 2001, there have been at least three archaeological studies done at the site, and a New Philadelphia Association and website have been created to encourage the preservation of what local citizens feel is an important part of their history.

The story of the other village, known as Pin Oak Colony, is quite different.  Pin Oak was located just east of Edwardsville, Illinois, on the Marine Road near Silver Creek, virtually in my backyard. When I read about this village for the first time it was just a small blip in a larger article, so I set out to find more. To my dismay I found that it was not going to be easy. I could only find a couple of articles online about it, and there were no community groups formed for its preservation. My husband and I then went for a drive to find the site where the village had once stood. Unlike New Philadelphia, there are no commemorative signs alerting passersby to the fact that they are in the location of a historic site. All we could find was a road and a nursing home named Pin Oak on the outskirts of Edwardsville and a Pin Oak Township within Madison County. These small, almost bureaucratic markers of a former historic site seem quite inadequate to me. If one did not know of Pin Oak Colony, these modern names would do nothing to inform of it’s existence.

Why would the fates of these two similar communities by so different? I believe that New Philadelphia has been remembered because its location is quite rural, and there are fewer historical sites to commemorate. But I think the story of Pin Oak is more complicated. I am sure that part of the mystery can be explained by the growing city of Edwardsville. Pin Oak was simply taken over and incorporated into the larger metropolitan area. But the troubled history of segregationists and abolitionists in Edwardsville needs to be taken into account as well. Perhaps it was political quicksand to attempt a preservation of a nearby African American community, and, after some time, Pin Oak was all but forgotten. This is worrisome for me, though. How much of our history has been forgotten and left in the past simply because it is too controversial?  I do not think that we should shy away from thorny issues, because they, too, had an active hand in shaping our present.

The Wildey Theatre

21 Apr

by Diana Yost-

This coming fall will mark my eighth year living in the Edwardsville area. One aspect of the region that I have enjoyed since the beginning of my time here is the historic Main Street in downtown Edwardsville. Having grown up in a small town, I was immediately drawn to it because of its nostalgia and small town feel. I love the architecture of the buildings and, more importantly, that they are almost all still functioning buildings, housing restaurants and businesses alike. As a huge supporter of historic preservation, I was so excited to find a historic downtown that seemed to be thriving!

Exterior of Wildey Theatre

However, there is one building in particular that caught my attention that was not being utilized–the old Wildey Theatre.  With its noticeable marquee and beautiful brick design, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to it?  After doing some research, I discovered that the theatre was built in 1909, and was designed to house board meetings and acted as a community center for the area. Vaudeville shows flourished in the beginning, with the theatre displaying a variety of singing, dancing, juggling, magic, and even comedy shows. The theatre then moved on to showcase silent films and eventually “talkies,” including the famous movie “The Jazz Singer.” Over time, the theatre lost funding and eventually closed its doors in 1984. In 1999, the City of Edwardsville purchased the property in hopes of renovating it.

Wildey Theatre Marquee

Over the past seven-plus years of being in the area, I have heard several rumors of it being either being closed for good or that it will be reopened soon. Well, the day has finally come–the Wildey Theatre had its grand re-opening on April 12! I had the opportunity to attend one of the movies they were showing during opening week, “Singing in the Rain,” and was thrilled to finally be able to go inside the theatre that has mysteriously sat vacant for so long. The newly remodeled building has done an excellent job at preserving the integrity of the art-deco style architecture while also upgrading the facilities with modern technologies. There is even a functioning ticket booth outside of the theatre, just like there used to be.  The Wildey Theatre plans on contributing to the community by not only showing movies, but also inviting students from Edwardsville High School and SIUE to perform there as well as other local entertainment. The Wildey Theatre is a piece of living history, and hopefully it will receive the support it needs to maintain its presence in the Edwardsville community.

Interior of Wildey Theatre