Will County Historic Preservation Commission Celebrates 20th Anniversary
May is a special month for the Will County Historic Preservation Commission, marking the 20th anniversary of its founding during the celebration of National Historic Preservation Month.
Organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the 2012 Preservation Month’s theme is “Discovering America’s Hidden Gems” and is designed to encourage exploration of local historic treasures. Will County is home to many of these “hidden gems”.
“Will County is known across the country for its dedication and success in preserving our historic landmarks,” said Virginia Ferry, chairwoman of the Will County Historic Preservation Commission. “We are proud of our county’s history and appreciate all the support we receive from our county leaders in preserving these important landmarks.”
In 1988, the State of Illinois initiated a survey of unincorporated rural areas, documenting thousands of structures built before 1945. In 1991, the idea of protecting specific historic buildings in Will County was brought forward by an employee within the county Land Use Department. Interested citizens from across Will County developed a report that substantiated the need for a historic preservation commission which was first contemplated in the 1976 Cultural Plan for the county, according to Michael Lambert, founding chair of the commission.
The Historic Preservation Ordinance was adopted in 1992, establishing the Historic Preservation Commission. The first meeting was held in 1993 but the commission was unfunded until 1997. The first two sites that were officially designated as historic landmarks were the John Lane Memorial Marker in Homer Township and the site of the Old Brick Tavern in New Lenox. Today 43 sites are listed on the Will County local register.
“Our first panel of commissioners had a united vision of preserving these important pieces of Will County history, Lambert said.
In addition to Lambert, the first board of commissioners included John Lamb, Dan Rozak, William Grenchick, Phyllis Monks, Marcie Stewart-Pyziak, Gretta Whitted, and Ferry. These individuals realized the importance of historic preservation and worked hard to establish the commission.
“While we all recognize the need for progress, we also understand the need to protect our history,” Ferry said. “It is very fitting the Will County Historic Commission is celebrating its 20th anniversary during National Historic Preservation Month.”
The Will County Historic Preservation Commission serves an advisory role to the Will County Board. Through public education initiatives, the commission has undertaken several projects including completion of Rural Historic Structures Surveys that document the rural structures in the unincorporated areas of Will County.
Since 1999, the Commission has worked to update the 1988 survey. To date, 16 of the county's 24 townships have been intensively surveyed, with two additional township surveys currently underway. The survey is a key component of Will County’s historic preservation and county planning initiatives. Additionally, the commission administers the Historic Preservation Ordinance and the county's landmark program. The county always welcomes and encourages nominations to the local register. The landmark process is thoroughly explained on the website: www.willcountylanduse.com.
The current commissioners are Virginia Ferry, John Lamb, Gretchen Sullivan, Mark Batson, Catherine Boo, Denise Issert, Michael Lambert, Kristen Steeves, and Sandy Vasko.
“We encourage anyone who thinks their property has landmark potential to visit the website and explore the process,” said Ferry. “We want residents to let us know of worthy sites throughout the county that should be recognized,” she said.
For more information about historic preservation, contact Eileen Franz at (815)774-7902 or firstname.lastname@example.org.