Saving History Right in Our Back Yard, Part II
Pat Torrance concludes her two-part recollection of the effort to save and restore Settler's Cottage.
Note: Read Part I here.
After first agreeing to try to save Settler’s Cottage, the board began to have second thoughts.
However, Jeanette Lee, Historical Preservation Commission chairman, was deeply committed to saving it. She had done her homework and studied the pros and cons.
In an April 2005 article in the Chicago Tribune, she was quoted as saying, “The dwelling is no bigger than a couple of parking spaces,” in response to critics who said there was no room for it.
“Once you destroy a structure, it is gone,” she emphasized.
She made a plea to the trustees at the next regular board meeting. Again her logic was flawless:
“The fact is that these historic homes have fallen in your laps, so to speak, and now it is necessary to consciously make a wise decision regarding them. Development and preservation do not have to be mutually exclusive.”
The board agreed to give the Historic Preservation Commission two weeks to come up with a written proposal and timeline. The pressure was on.
Roger Burrell, who was then a trustee, said, “Shame on us if we don’t find a way to protect it. Shame on the residents if they don’t have an interest in finding a way to save this property. We need to find every avenue to save that structure.”
This was just what the Preservation Commission needed to hear.
The commission pushed forward. There were still many doubts but once Landmark Illinois got on board and reviewed the project, and confirmed its importance by granting financial aid for a historic structures report, things started looking up.
By this time the board was very polarized and the decision was firm against funding the restoration, while supporting the efforts to pursue private funding.
People who believed in the importance of the project applied for any available grants, and planned fund-raisers. Local companies came through with enough money to start the renovation.
Historical restorations are much more expensive than the typical home restorations, and each item was carefully considered and bids were taken.
It was a slow and painstaking process that consumed the next five years. One large grant of $60,000 from State Senator Linda Holmes pushed the total of money received from grants and fund-raisers to $132,275 in December 2009.
It was dedicated in May 2010.
Today the building houses a small museum, and visitors can see a tiny bedroom furnished with a rope bed and items from the Civil War period. The small kitchen area has a changing display of kitchen items.
There is a Civil War exhibit and information on Camp Hammond. Photos and items of interest are displayed around the room and will be changed as collections grow.
Plans are under way for reinforcement to be added to the staircases and new front steps to be completed this year. This will allow access to the basement and the upper floor. The engraved brick pavers that surround the cottage are still being sold. (A future article is planned telling about the lives of the people behind the names.)
Ongoing fund-raisers provide the income to maintain the museum. They include the community garage sale, the car show at Montgomery Fest, sales of books at the museum, and of course, the donations. It has been done without further taxing the citizens.
The museum is looking for old photos. They can either be donated to the museum, or scanned and returned to the owners. Old letters, diaries or any early records of the village included.
Any items pertaining to Montgomery’s history are actively being sought. If you have anything, call Debbie Buchanan at Village Hall, at 630-896-8080, ext. 1114.
Everything will be carefully handled and preserved where it can be enjoyed by future generations. The museum will be open every second Tuesday and the following Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m., or by request.
For stories by people who lived in the cottage, visit the living history page on the Montgomery village website here.
You will find a story written by Richard Gove, who lived in the cottage from 1946 until he went into the military in 1966. His story of growing up in Montgomery is heart-warming and describes a wonderful childhood among loving, caring people.
Gene Michaels wrote about events in town from the perspective of the village storekeeper, and firsthand observer. I wrote a piece about growing up in the cottage during the Depression years. You will find photos here, also.
I hope you will read these stories and consider writing your own in your own words or consider making a tape.
One man tells a funny story about the barbershop his mother made him go to, and the barber with terrible breath.
Somehow these memories are still vivid after so many years. I’m sure he has more and so do you. The museum would love to have them.