DuPage forest preserve's McKee House makes endangered list
A proposed deal between Glen Ellyn and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County could buy preservationists time to save an 81-year-old limestone house in Churchill Woods Forest Preserve that's now considered one of the most endangered historic places in Illinois.
It was announced Thursday that the McKee House along St. Charles Road has been named one of the state's most endangered historic places by Landmarks Illinois. The nonprofit has released an annual list since 1995 to call attention to threatened historic sites.
The McKee House made this year's list because officials with the forest preserve district, which owns the building, are "considering demolition of the building despite studies showing its ability to be rehabilitated," according to Landmarks Illinois.
"We should get statewide recognition of this," said Linda Gilbert with the nonprofit McKee Preservation Group, which is trying to raise money to restore the building. "It is one of the nicer buildings in the state that are badly endangered."
Forest preserve and Glen Ellyn officials are negotiating an intergovernmental agreement that would prevent the house from being torn down for years.
As part of the proposal, Glen Ellyn would lease a maintenance facility at Churchill Woods, officials said. The $1-a-year lease would include the McKee House, so preservationists would be given time to raise $400,000 to help restore the building.
While the details are still being worked out, forest preserve Commissioner Tim Whelan said he likes the proposal.
"I think it would be a tremendous step forward in order to preserve the McKee House," said Whelan, whose district includes the building.
District staff members last year recommended razing the house after an architectural and engineering firm evaluated the building.
But it's up to forest preserve commissioners to decide if they want to proceed with the demolition. A vote by the board didn't happen because officials gave McKee House supporters time to find a use for the building.
Whelan said he expects preservationists to be given five years to raise the $400,000.
If they succeed, Glen Ellyn and the forest preserve would each contribute $25,000, Whelan said. The total of $450,000 would pay for repairs to the building.
Additional work would need to be done to convert the house into another use. Whelan said someone could be found to do that project and use the building.
In the meantime, Gilbert said forest preserve officials should want to protect the McKee House because it's an important part of the district's history.
"They acquired some buildings as they acquired land," Gilbert said. "It's understandable they don't know what to do with them. But this was built for the forest preserve."
The McKee House was completed in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Initially used by Robert McKee, the forest district's first superintendent, the building later became a guard house. But it's been vacant since 2002 and has fallen into disrepair.
Despite the damage, an architectural study in 2013 found the building to be structurally sound.