Landmark or eyesore? The challenges of historic preservation commissions

  • Daily Herald columnist Dave Heun wonders whether what remains of the Mill Race Inn in Geneva is worth preserving or should be torn down to make way for a new development.

      Daily Herald columnist Dave Heun wonders whether what remains of the Mill Race Inn in Geneva is worth preserving or should be torn down to make way for a new development. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Posted5/16/2018 4:10 PM

Without historic preservation commissions, it's hard to say exactly what would become of historic buildings, roadways or parks.

It's never an easy task to educate everyone about the importance of staying true to community roots -- especially when a city is transforming some of its parts from the past to present.


The great appeal of this region of the Fox Valley is that much of its history still stands for everyone to see.

Many historic homes and businesses haven't deteriorated and, if updated, followed specific guidelines so as not to destroy integrity and legacy.

But it doesn't come without challenges. It can leave some scratching their heads as to what purpose an older home, government or school building would have in the grand scheme of a city's future -- if a preservation debate holds up a new development.

Many didn't want the old Batavia junior high school building knocked down on Wilson Street to pave the way for a new library. But that library now is a downtown jewel.

The old creamery building on the original Herrington property on the west side of the Fox River along State Street in Geneva was ultimately incorporated into the Herrington Inn project. But it didn't come without prolonged debate and advocates on both sides -- demolition or restoration -- having their say.

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In both cases, I was among those who couldn't understand how an old building with no apparent purpose could get in the way of what promised to be a great addition to a city.

On the other hand, I had the opposite feelings about the old Mount St. Mary and Valley Lutheran High School building along Geneva Road in St. Charles and its nearby Farnsworth Mansion, the home of a local Civil War hero, being torn down.

It seemed crazy to demolish those buildings to build Viewpointe, but no one really had an answer as to what purpose the buildings would serve. They were part of history, so I wanted them to stay.

At first, I couldn't say the same thing about the 1846 limestone building on the former Mill Race Inn site that is now part of a debate over Shodeen's next project along the east side of the river. As an original part of Mill Race Inn, it has won landmark status from the Historic Preservation Commission.


That means Shodeen Family Foundation, planning a new development on that property, has to incorporate it into any new building plans or seek permission to demolish it.

Right now, what is left of the foundation at this site is simply going to be a mosquito-breeding pond. I couldn't see a logical way it could be salvaged or made to be part of an overall development.

But that's not my line of work. And the more I look at it, the more I start to believe Shodeen could come up with some use for it as a place to store equipment or as part of a scenic courtyard.

My love of history and a desire to see riverfront property made even more beautiful will clash on occasion. On this one, I was siding with demolishing the building, and would still be OK with that -- but have come to believe it is worth considering for an alternative use.

Surprise for these burgers:

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned it was dumb for people to bash St. Charles city officials on social media because a Wahlburger's restaurant wasn't being set up in downtown St. Charles. For one, no such plan had ever come up for a vote.

A week later, actor and singer Donnie Wahlburg showed up at a plan commission meeting to pitch his idea for the restaurant on the city's west side.

No, I had nothing to do with it. But it was great to hear Wahlburg speak so highly of his new hometown as his proposal came as part of a new plan on current Meijer parking lot property earmarked for three restaurants in the future.

Plan commissioners gave the proposal a thumbs-up, and so did a city council committee. The full council will vote in the coming weeks.

This will be a nice win for St. Charles, as these popular restaurants have mostly been set up in big cities across the country -- from the Wahlburg stomping grounds of Boston to the family's frequent workplace in Hollywood, California, and many points in between.

Tidying up the grounds:

Sugar Grove's public library has been a source of pride in the community since it first opened in 2009.

But with that pride comes the need to keep the area around the library looking nice, and that's where the Sugar Grove Library Friends group has played a key role.

A lot of work has been done to clean up the typical winter damage and welcome spring already, and the group is hoping for volunteers to show up with tools in hand from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on a monthly basis.

The first work group session takes place May 19 and the others follow on June 16, July 21, Aug. 18, Sept. 15 and Oct. 20.

Set the tee times:

Mill Creek Golf Course in Geneva went from being open, to being closed, to being rumored to not open again until 2019, to suddenly opening for the golf season this week.

In the grand scheme of things, the details that had to be worked out between Shodeen Group and American Golf as to what was going to happen as Shodeen took over again don't really matter to folks who just want to play golf.

It wasn't any fun for those who had weddings or golf outings booked for late May or early June and were left scrambling for new locations, but ultimately it's too nice of a facility and golf layout to be sitting unused through a summer. We're glad to see it open again.

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