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By BONNIE McDONALD
President of Landmarks Illinois
It has come to our attention that, once again, the Ford County Board is discussing demolition of the Ford County sheriff’s residence and jail. This 1871 Italianate-style, brick house with an attached stone jail, which served its purpose for 120 years, was included on our “Ten Most Endangered Historic Places” in Illinois list in 2011.
In follow-up to that listing, this past summer we submitted a visual condition assessment of the building based on a tour arranged by Rosemary Kaye, who has been an active voice in support of preserving the building. We wanted citizens of Ford County to know the outcome of that condition assessment. The architect who reviewed the building on our behalf found the following:
Although the building has not been inhabited (either as a residence or as a county government building) for a number of years, it appears to be in sound structural condition.
The county has maintained the residence and jail well during the time period it has been unoccupied. Maintenance issues that should be executed in the immediate future include: additional maintenance of the front wrap-around porch, including the removal of abandoned furniture; gutters should be routinely cleaned and splash-blocks installed at the downspouts; rubbish and debris should be removed from both the residence and the jail and the entire building should be broom-swept clean.
(All of the aforementioned are routine maintenance tasks we do to our own homes — none of which are costly. A hearty dose of “sweat equity” would be suitable.)
The house/jail appears suitable for historic rehabilitation as new office space for the county government.
Based on its current condition, rehabilitating this building would allow the county to maximize an existing as-built facility in a cost-effective way for the taxpayers of Ford County.
The report, which can be found on our website at www.landmarks.org, was submitted to Sheriff Mark Doran, and we hope the county board will give it lengthy review and consideration. Clearly the $60,000 spent by the county four years ago to replace the roof on the residence and jail paid off because the building is in good condition. It could be called adding insult to injury if Ford County opts to move forward with a publicly financed demolition that also results in wasting the public funds that have maintained the property.
If the county has decided it will not need the space, we urge officials to allow the Paxton Foundation to evaluate the building for its own possible use. The Foundation has a proven track record with the ownership, rehabilitation and maintenance of the city’s former water tower and pump house, which now serves as the Ford County museum.
Otherwise, the county could consider marketing the property for private lease in order to bring in rental revenue and property tax dollars. A lessee also could utilize the 20 percent federal rehabilitation tax credit to adaptively reuse the property, which is available for buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In February 2012, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency determined the building eligible for listing in the National Register, largely because so few sheriff residences with attached jails still exist in the state. This is a rare treasure that we urge the community to preserve.
The Ford County sheriff’s residence and jail is hardly a throw-away property. It is a well-built facility that, if given even minimum investment, could serve another purpose and remain one of the city of Paxton’s most important historic properties.
After the loss of the Illinois Central Depot, the original Knights Templar Home and, most recently, the Paxton Majestic Theater, Paxton is slowly losing its most visible historic assets and what helps to make the community unique.
We hope that on Monday, Jan. 14, residents will attend the county board meeting and speak in support of finding a reuse solution for the Ford County sheriff’s residence and jail. Now is the time to make the long-term choice to be stewards of the past for future generations of Paxton families.
Our small towns are defined by a strong sense of community pride that is defined by the places that tell our story. Let’s not throw away our past, for there’s no way to undo the demolition of our history.
Landmarks Illinois is a statewide, nonprofit historic preservation organization based in Chicago.