Tag Archives: preservation

Preserving Stairs

8 May

by Caitlin Dentamaro-

Preservation is important in many ways because it helps the future learn about the past. Houses in Edwardsville date back hundreds of years. In my best friend’s house, they have stairs that date back to the Civil War. With the Civil War having its 150th anniversary this year, I thought that the stairs should be talked about. The stairs, at this point, are very wobbly, painted white and missing chunks of wood out of the different panels. The staircase has been painted over and over again, but the original wood is still intact. The landlord of the house refuses to fix the stairs or even change them out because he wants to preserve the entire set. I feel that this is important because the landlord appreciates history and what the staircase has to offer. Even though the house has been updated throughout the years, the dangerous staircase will always be left, leading into the basement.

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Preserving Baseball Stadiums

8 May

by Nick Junge-

As years go by, current historical ballparks such as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are continually being preserved. Unlike other ballparks such as the old Busch Stadium, which was replaced for a newer stadium, these two stadiums are constantly being preserved. Why do certain cities keep their historical ballparks for many years while others continually build a new stadium at every chance they get? I believe that it becomes a sense of pride. Wrigley field and Fenway Park are among the top ballparks in the country with great atmosphere and historic architecture.

Wrigley Field has many concerns that are being addressed each day such as falling bricks and out of date services. The organization always finds ways to preserve their landmarks. When the day comes that these ballparks are replaced, will they become storage for old cars seen earlier in class, or possibly become a museum in itself.  Becoming a museum would be very interesting to see. The museum could entail all of the team’s history and events that the stadium may have held other than baseball. Not only are these sites for baseball, but they hold many memories that families will never forget even after it is gone.

Schmuhl School

6 May

by Regina Mangun-

I grew up in New Lenox, Illinois, and I attended Schmuhl School for kindergarten. The building had been around since 1932 and officially became a part of the school district in the 1950s. In 2000, the school became a historical landmark and was moved from the southeast corner of route 30 and Schoolhouse Road to the northeast corner. I remember my grandma taking me to watch the school be moved across the street. Many people were present to show support for the historical society and the work they were doing to make the school a historical landmark. Today, the school has been restored and people can visit to see what it was like to attend Schmuhl School.

I am proud to be a part of the school’s history and am glad the building was preserved instead of being destroyed. In the case of this school, I think too much history would have been lost if Schmuhl School had been demolished. Many generations of New Lenox citizens attended that school. Today, classes go on field trips to the school and learn about its history. They may even learn that their parents or grandparents went to that school.

As I have mentioned before, I am hesitant when it comes to preservation and when it should be utilized. It is important to remember history and historical landmarks, but we do not want to live in the past! However, with Schmuhl School, I think it would have faded into the background history of the town if it had not been preserved and marked as a historical landmark. The area where the school used to sit has become a shopping center and continues to change with the times. I am glad that the school is across the street to serve as a reminder of how the town used to be.

Preservation and the Joliet Arsenal

6 May

by Regina Mangun-

Throughout this class, the topic of preserving historical landmarks has been a recurring theme. I have been on the fence trying to decide if I agree with preservation or if I believe it holds a community back. I certainly do not want to demolish areas and let their historical significance be lost, but I can see the dilemma in trying to preserve every little piece of history. With the preservation of historical landmarks, will there be room for ‘new’ historical areas? I have gone back and forth trying to figure out what I believe would be best, and then I learned about the Joliet Arsenal and the renovations it is undergoing.

The Arsenal was used during World War II and later wars for the manufacturing of weapons for the war effort. Many Illinois residents in that area were employed by the Arsenal, which created an economic boost for that region. The Arsenal was located in a prime area for easy access to transportation, which was beneficial for the distribution of weapons. Now, the land is being used for industrial purposes. Manufacturing and trucking companies are being built to create more jobs and another economic boost for the area.

I realized this news saddened me because I believe the Joliet Arsenal should have been preserved. It played an important role for the United States during World War II, and it especially had great historical meaning to the local communities. To see that land turned into an industrial park seems like a waste. I find it funny that when I do not agree with what will be done to a historical area I am pro preservation. However, when the plans for a new building spark my interest, I am suddenly torn about what should be done and what is right. I can definitely understand why historical preservation can be a controversial topic and how every circumstance is unique.

Reflections: The Future of Public Building Preservation

6 May

by Tom Thompson-

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of final course reflections from graduate students.

During the semester we met numerous people who are passionate about history and present it to the public in many different ways.  That passion rubs off on us as students and makes us want to continue their legacy of preservation.  However, I am concerned whether major historic preservation projects, of the type we learned about, will be completed in the future.

When I look at the old YMCA in Belleville as a public historian I see the architecture and the role the building played in improving lives of city residents.  But as a taxpayer and realist I just see a stalemate.  The building is too expensive to repair and the city does not have the money to tear it down.  So it continues to be exposed to the elements and become harder to restore.  Even if the economic environment improves, will the funding come forward to rebuild such a large building?

We’ve seen that cities like Lowell, Mass., have been able to use their historical past to lead preservation efforts for the city as a whole.  But Lowell’s experience was driven by a few people with vision, federal funding, and the continuing support of the National Park Service. What is to happen to our local cities with much smaller populations and no driving force for change?  I am normally a positive person but I have to say that I am not optimistic about the future of these large-scale projects.

The fiscal future points to reduced federal funding across the board and likely further reduction in the arts and state historical projects. Certainly in the short run it appears that the State of Illinois will have to fund people and infrastructure projects at the expense of the arts. What will happen to the smaller cities that want to preserve their inner core like Belleville and Granite City? Even a large project like Old North St. Louis has huge financial challenges. How will they find the funding to preserve significant buildings or historic areas?

Many cities we have learned about are considering converting these areas to an “arts” center. We’ve heard this in Belleville and Granite City. Other mid-size American cities like Reading, PA are going this route to save their inner core and reduce flight of younger residents from the city.  Reading has a head start with the drive of millionaire Albert Boscov, but what are the rest of us to do?  Can the arts attract enough businesses to save all of these cities?  Again I am skeptical.

So, rather than a call to action, I just want to point out to my fellow public historians that we are in an era where we may have to pick our small battles rather than win the whole war. So, in Belleville, the Historical Society is preserving a small old saloon while keeping an eye on the larger YMCA.  A manageable project with, perhaps, a manageable budget.  The way of the future.

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.

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.

Graue Mill Historic Site

27 Apr

by Caitlin Dentamaro-

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, museums were around me all of the time. The museums in the city are beautiful and large, being able to meet everyone’s interests. One of my favorite museums is called Graue Mill. It is not in the busy city, but in the suburbs where I live. I love this museum because it is small and personal, having more volunteers than visitors.

Graue MillGraue Mill is located in Oak Brook, Illinois. The founder of this mill was Frederick Graue who was born in Germany but came to the United States to open a mill. The mill took five years to build. The bricks and clay came from the Graue farm. During the nineteenth century, the mill was the center of economic life. Being located on the Salt Creek, the mill had a large waterwheel grist mill that would grind the locally grown wheat and corn.

Graue Mill not only made a living for the Graue family for generations, the mill was also used as a route for the Underground Railroad. The mill was one of three stops for the Underground Railroad in Illinois. This station allowed the slaves to hide out in the basement of the mill. Mr. Graue built tunnels that linked the basement of the mill to other hiding places for the African Americans seeking freedom.

Every month Graue Mill holds different events. My aunt and uncle volunteered there and they would reenact different events that happened throughout the time the mill was still being used. My aunt and uncle would dress up and do different tasks around the mill. My uncle was a skilled blacksmith, showing the visitors how to shape the metal. My aunt was placed upstairs in the mill, weaving and spinning cotton into yarn.Exterior of Graue Mill

I feel that reenacting and having living history presentations is important for the visitors to see how the mill was used between 1850 and 1890. As learned in class, preservation of old buildings is important for the future, teaching everyone about the past. We are now able to learn about the mill and physically see the mill because preservation has taken place over the years. Since 1975, the mill has been registered on the National Register of Historical Places. 

Giving Lip Service to Preservation

22 Apr

by Melissa Burns-

Living in Southwestern Illinois, you find Cahokia Mounds almost in your backyard. Growing up, I, like everyone else, took the requisite school field trips and learned about the people who once lived there. I was fascinated by its size and scope and how it once rivaled  cities like London, Paris, or Mexico City in its influence. Now, working in the tourism industry, I give directions and encourage people to go see the mounds. I sometimes wonder, though, how much we really think about Cahokia Mounds or work to preserve them.

Monk's Mound

Monk's Mound

The first thing that always stands out to me when I visit Cahokia Mounds is not the number of mounds or the impressive height of Monk’s Mound, but the billboards that have been placed right in the heart of the site and the highway that cuts it in half. I am always amazed that such a wonderfully historic place as Cahokia Mounds has been so recklessly treated. Of course, one could make the argument that the mounds are available to everyone at no charge, and some trade-offs are therefore to be expected. After all, commerce and expansion do have a way of making themselves known in even the least likely of places. But even this open availability has become limited recently. With the budget crisis that the state of Illinois is in, the hours and days that the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center is open to the public has been drastically cut for the majority of the year.  The question I have to ask, then, is are we truly trying to preserve Cahokia Mounds and, if we are, what is going wrong with that attempt?

Big Mound

Artist's sketch of Big Mound in St. Louis, shortly before it was demolished

Not long ago, I read an article in National Geographic titled “America’s Forgotten City.”  Written by former magazine staffer Glenn Hodges, who had only recently learned of the mounds existence, the story gave me a new perspective on something that we take largely for granted. Hodges’ opinion was that, as a site of Native American history, Cahokia Mounds has fallen victim to the long tradition of American disdain and ambivalence toward Indian culture.  According to this theory, the mounds’ historical significance went against the prevailing eighteenth and nineteenth-century opinion that Native Americans were savage peoples who were incapable of living a “modern” or “civilized” existence. An Indian city was simply too much for Americans to comprehend. As such, farmers in Illinois and city planners in Missouri demolished the mounds with careless abandon, finding them either a nuisance in the middle of a cornfield or more valuable as fill dirt in the city.  This is an intriguing hypothesis, and, while I am not sure if I am totally sold that this is the exact answer, I do think that it provides some interesting insight.

Loaf Mound

Loaf Mound, St. Louis's final standing mound

When it comes to Cahokia Mounds, or any historical site, what preservation ultimately comes down to is personal involvement. Local or national politics will always have an agenda, one which usually runs counter to the best interests of history in favor of more immediate financial goals.  It is up to us to actively engage with history and show its importance, whether you are the teacher who leads the fieldtrip, the hotel clerk who gives suggestions to tourists, or, as featured in the National Geographic article, a local man who takes it upon himself to care for and maintain a neighborhood historical marker.

Preserving Gingerbread Cottages in Martha’s Vineyard

4 Apr

by Caitlin Dentamaro-

Homes in Martha's VineyardPreserving history is taking place all over the United States. During a trip to the east coast, I had the opportunity to visit Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Our tour guide Deana taught us about the area and how the people lived. Oak Bluffs became a thriving Methodist area during the nineteenth century. Starting in 1835, Methodists came to Martha’s Vineyard, living in tents. The area in Martha’s Vineyard is called the Oak Bluffs where the people of the camp lived. The group that is responsible for the campground is called Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association (MVCMA).

Home in Martha's VineyardEach summer, members of the church would pitch tents and have their meetings outside. As years went on, more visitors began coming to the island. They would start building small wooden houses, now known as the Gingerbread Cottages. They are very colorful and actually do look like Gingerbread Houses. With the town forming in a circle, they decided to build a tabernacle in the center. The tabernacle holds 3,000 people. Winter came and they built a church called Trinity Methodist Church in 1878.

Tabernacle in Martha's VineyardThere are 320 cottages that belong to the MVCMA. They are now priced for over a million dollars each. Many families have passed the cottages down from generation to generation. Everyone loves their community and they sit outside and greet the visitors. I was very happy that I was able to see such a memorable place. I feel that it is important to preserve history so generations in the future can learn about their past. The memories will be remembered forever if the residents keep their Gingerbread Cottages preserved. The residents answered any questions we had and were proud of where they lived. On April 5, 2005, Oak Bluffs became a National Historical Landmark.