Agriculture Belleville, Illinois Demolition Southern Illinois

Farm House Facing Death In Belleville

by Michael R. Allen

I have been conducting an architectural survey at Scott Air Force Base and passing back through Belleville. Last week, just east of town I came across this 19th century brick farmhouse on Highway 161 east of town. The rest of the farm — a clay tile silo and some outbuildings — are well under demolition, but work has yet to really start on the house. A porch and the roofing have been removed, but the old building is painfully still able to be saved. The demolition set me to thinking.

I know, I know. Illinois is full of these one-story brick center-hall houses, with their two-over-two wooden windows and simple brick cornices. Yet that’s really the point: these vernacular houses give the state’s rural areas unique architectural character compatible with the rich and lovely landscape upon which they reside.

Besides, this house has an interesting hipped roof, and lovely cast stone porch columns (definitely not original, but certainly a historic alteration). With a new Wal-Mart and strip retail in this vicinity, I think I know what happens next to this farm. Even if one does not see the folly of the wasted building, what about thinking through losing soil that has fed people for over 100 years?

St. Louisans should think about these things too. What happens in Belleville matters to St. Louis. The loss of good farm land and usable farm building stock within 100 miles weakens our renewing regional food economy. We lost much of the good farm land in St. Louis and St. Charles counties, but we still have a lot left across the river. Some talk about “balancing” the region’s sprawl, but without regional growth that is tantamount to doubling the waste: settled and unsettled areas, wasted. When do we stop?

Historic Preservation Illinois Southern Illinois

2010 Illinois Ten Most Endangered Places

Today Landmarks Illinois announced its 2010 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places. More information is online here.

The list includes:

1. Bass-Mollett House — Greenville
2. Chanute Headquarters and Mess Hall – Rantoul
3. Illinois Main Street Program
4. Manske-Niemann Farm – Litchfield
5. Massac Theater – Metropolis
6. North Pullman – Chicago
7. Prentice Women’s Hospital – Chicago
8. Red Cliff – Moline
9. St. Laurence Complex – Chicago
10. Uptown Theatre – Chicago

This is an assortment indicative of the state’s current preservation problems: there’s a mid-century modern building (Prentice Women’s Hospital), a farm, two theaters and a large church (always hard to adapt) and a popular state preservation program.

I previously wrote about the plight of the Massac Theater: “Massac Theater Crumbles in Metropolis, Illinois” (November 13, 2007).

Illinois Mid-Century Modern Southern Illinois

Trenton City Hall

by Michael R. Allen

A night ride back from the Clinton County Fair in Carlyle, Illinois took us through Trenton, Illinois over the weekend. Trenton is a small town with a small City Hall, but their City Hall is no cookie-cutter box or faux colonial meeting hall. No, Trenton has a cool modernist building that was probably inexpensive to build — again, small town with small city hall probably has small budget — but is a delight to behold.

The entire front wall consists of patterned glass blocks (specifically, the Intaglio Glass Wall Unit) laid in between black-painted steel piers. these glass blocks are laid in a neat pattern. At center is a simple, common metal door with a delightfully curved handle. Across the top is the name of the building on a backlit plastic board (paging Robert Venturi). While the plastic board is a little out of synch with the simple, smart design below, the composition works. Trenton’s leaders settled on distilling the importance of municipal government into as direct an architectural statement as possible.

While many towns across Illinois opt for allusions to classical architecture, or headquarter their government in plain-ugly, workable buildings, Trenton chose modern. Oh, I hope that their future leaders recognize and cherish the small wonder of City Hall!

Chicago Historic Preservation Illinois Southern Illinois

Illinois’ Ten Most Endangered — And the Chicago Landmark Ordinance

by Michael R. Allen

Landmarks Illinois has released its ten most endangered places list for 2009; the list and information about each site is online here. There are no sites in southwestern Illinois near St. Louis, although a few southern Illinois sites are included.

Here’s the full list:

1. Arcade Building (Riverside)
2. Archer House (Marshall)
3. Aurora Masonic Temple (Aurora)
4. Chautauqua Auditorium (Shelbyville)
5. Davenport, Rock Island and Northwestern Depot (Moline)
6. Lewis Pharmacy Interior (Canton)
7. Michael Reese Hospital Campus (Chicago)
8. Porthole Barns of Greene County
9. Prentice Women’s Hospital (Chicago)
10. Shawneetown Bank (Old Shawneetown)

A special eleventh spot is included for the Chicago Landmark Ordinance. On January 31, an appellate court ruled that the criteria for landmark designation under the ordinance was vague and sent the ordinance to trial court for review. The outcome of that review could nullify the ordinance, removing legal protection for 277 landmark sites and 51 historic districts designated under the powers of that ordinance.

Historic Preservation Illinois Southern Illinois

Illinois Historic Sites Reopened Today

by Michael R. Allen

Scenes like these captured at Fort de Chartres this fall will return to Illinois’ closed historic sites. Today the sites, closed by former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (Delusional-Chicago), opened once again.

This is good news for the entire state of Illinois as well as St. Louis. Fort de Chartres, the Pierre Menard Home and the Vandalia Statehouse are within 100 miles of St. Louis. They bring tourism dollars into the wider regional economy.

Planning a celebration with a friend whose husband is returning to work at one of the sites, I was happy to hear that Saturday might be a tight fit because he’ll be back at work — on the weekend, with beautiful weather and plenty of visitors!

Historic Preservation Illinois Mid-Century Modern Monroe County Southern Illinois

Losing the Bee Hive Bowl

by Michael R. Allen

The Bee Hive Bowl in Waterloo, Illinois is about to end its long battle with redevelopment. after being listed on the market for over three years, the shuttered bowling alley, located on Illinois Route 3 just north of HH Road, will be demolished for yet another over-sized convenience store and gas station. The old Mobil station next door, a family-run affair housed in a building older than the Bee Hive, was wrecked last year for the same project.

Why does the demolition of a 1950s-era bowling alley in a small town outside of St. Louis merit my attention? For one thing, the transition tells an interesting story. For another, when I write about happenings in still-rural Monroe County, southeast of St. Louis, I am writing about the land that fostered my childhood. My attachment to the land and places of Monroe County runs deep, and its evolution since I left as a teenager disturbs, delights and intrigues me.

To the point, the Bee Hive Bowl was a county institution. The Bee Hive was Waterloo’s only bowling alley, and one of less than five in the county. Monroe County has always been Friday-night territory. Week nights are work nights for the farmers, especially in good weather. The bars attract small crowds, and the restaurants are closed by 9:00 p.m. But come Friday, people pack the taverns and restaurants to dispel some of the pent-up energy. When I was a kid, getting a lane at the Bee Hive was not easy on a weekend night. That did not matter too much to the adults, who could hang out in the restaurant eating fried chicken and drinking beer.

The sort of company and good cheer found at the Bee Hive was one of those things that connected small-town and country folks in Monroe County with everyone everywhere, at least in the United States. Every town, city and military base had a bar. Most had bowling alleys. Much is made of the correlation between bowling and urban working-class populations, but southern Illinois’ rural working-class (farm laborers and factory workers) loved their bowling, too.

All that has changed, of course. The Bee Hive closed up shop early in the 21st century, joining legions of bowling alleys in small towns and big cities everywhere. (In fact, the Bee Hive outlasted most of the bowling alleys in the city of St. Louis.) Obviously, in cities with diminishing density, the loss of bowling alleys makes sense. But in Monroe County, the towns continue to grow and increase population density. Of course, just like St. Louis, Waterloo has lost many of its manufacturing and well-paid blue-collar jobs. And young people there are as disinterested in a communal pastime like bowling as are youth in the urban neighbor to the west.

Hence, the Bee Hive’s impending demolition is not really the story of the loss of a retro modern building — it’s the story of the decline of a particular part of social life. Without bowlers, bowling alleys are hard to maintain. The new gas station and convenience store also tells us something about Waterloo. I’m not quite sure what that is — such operations are found alongside highways everywhere, and have little that is particularly local about them.

A side note that in intriguing is that the Bee Hive’s lanes now compose table tops at Gallagher’s, a popular restaurant and bar located in a historic building in downtown Waterloo. The owner had a use for the lanes that fit the new social life of the county seat. All is not lost, I guess, and Friday nights in Waterloo must be as fun as ever.

Events Historic Preservation Illinois Southern Illinois

Fort de Chartres Hosting Winter Rendevous November 1 and 2; Closure Extended to November 30

by Michael R. Allen

This past weekend, on October 4th and 5th, the annual French and Indian War Assemblage took place at Fort de Chartres near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. Crowds of people, a few shown here in photos taken at the end of the weekend, watched reenactors depict fort life at the time of the war that led to the French retreat from North America. Visitors to the Assemblage were among the thousands of people who enjoy visits to Fort de Chartes each year. Last year, 38,100 people visited a site where some of Illinois’ earliest history unfolded.

The event may be the last at the site, depending on how the state historic site fares in the state budget negotiations expected to start up again in January. For now, Fort de Chartres remains open until November 30, and is anticipating the usual great attendance at its annual Winter Rendezvous, held November 1st and 2nd. The potentially chilly weekend will feature period costume and camping as well as games, music and demonstrations. St. Louisans should consider the relatively short trip to the forth then to have fun, learn and demonstrate our support for a part of our region’s French colonial heritage. More information is online here. Directions to Fort de Chartres are located here.

Historic Preservation Illinois Southern Illinois

Illinois Closes Cahokia Courthouse, Fort de Chartres and Other Sites

by Michael R. Allen

Unbelievable — according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is forced to close five historic sites due to budget cuts by Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich. Five are near St. Louis, and are popular destinations for families and student groups from the St. Louis area:

  • Fort de Chartres
  • Pierre Menard Home
  • Cahokia Courthouse
  • Fort Kaskaskia
  • Vandalia Statehouse

    What becomes of these highly significant places? Stay tuned.

  • Categories
    Architecture Historic Preservation Illinois Monroe County Southern Illinois

    The Metal Roofs of Waterloo

    by Michael R. Allen

    I spent twelve pivotal years of my childhood living in Monroe, County Illinois, just southeast of the city of St. Louis. There I spent time taking in the historic architecture. Due to a mix of circumstances ranging from Germanic thrift to rural poverty, much of the remaining historic stock of the county retains a high level of integrity. Wooden window sashes, doors and porches remain. Barns have original siding. Walkways are often paved in brick. The county seat, Waterloo, offers a spectacular array of well-preserved brick and frame vernacular buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    One of the most noticeable aspects of Waterloo’s architecture is that many of the gabled and hipped roofs retain historic standing-seam metal roofs, maintained with silver paint. Some people even opt for new metal roofing when they replace a roof. There is no reason these roofs can’t last forever as long as the diligent owners keep them maintained.

    Here is a sampling of metal roofs, all from just one side of one street: the north street face of Mill Street.

    Agriculture Historic Preservation Monroe County Southern Illinois

    Monroe County Corn Crib Still in Use

    by Michael R. Allen

    While driving in Monroe County, Illinois recently, I was delighted to find an intact historic corn crib still in use. This crib stands on the east side of Bluff Road between Fults and Kaskaskia roads. Corn cribs are used for storing whole ears of corn for livestock feed. Due to the widespread use of processed feeds since the middle twentieth century, corn crib usage is very low and corn cribs are poised to become an extinct agricultural building type.

    The corn crib is part of a farm that includes a historic one-story, side-gabled frame house, replete with standing-seem metal roof, wooden window sashes and two additions. That level of historic integrity is not entirely uncommon on surviving farmsteads in southern Illinois. Many have been clad in newer siding, like this one, but metal roofs and wooden doors and sashes are common. Some farms still believe in the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” (Although I’m sure many farmers are simply working from “we’re broke, so we can’t fix it.”)