Historic sites scheduled to close

John Sloan

    The Illinois Historic Site in Bishop Hill, but only the historic site, is officially closing. The question is, for how long?

    Bishop Hill officials received word from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency on Thursday that the colony’s historic state-owned properties, including the Krans Museum, Colony Church and Bjorklund Hotel, will close on Oct. 1, with four of five state employees receiving layoff notices effective Sept. 30.

    The memo received from the agency indicated that the Bishop Hill site “will be open on a limited basis for special events.”

    State representatives Don Moffitt (R-Gilson) and Mike Boland (D-Moline) were on hand Thursday evening, Aug. 28, at a press conference in the Colony Steeple Building to announce House Bill 6693, which would restore the $7.7 million cut from the budget by Governor Rod Blagojevich and allow the Bishop Hill properties to re-open.

    “I’m an old history teacher,” said Boland. “I have a great appreciation for our state historic sites, so this is very personal.

    “But it’s an economic hit, too, it’s going to have an economic impact; therefore an employment impact.”

    Representative Moffitt agreed.

    “Our historic sites and preserved artifacts are our only connection to Illinois’ rich history. And cutting funding for historic preservation actually costs the state money,” said Moffitt, citing the effect of lost tourism, jobs and sales tax revenues.

    The new legislation will likely take a lot of time and effort.

“It’s going to be a difficult battle,” said Boland. “We’re not in regular session right now, but in the meantime, we can take advantage of the time we have to get organized and get people involved. We have to let people know that this money is really an investment. We’re going to have payback.”

    Moffitt indicated the bill would probably have to wait until the legislature goes back into regular session in January.

    “We’re not going to be able to present it in the veto session, so unless we go into special session, it’s probably going to be early 2009,” said Moffitt. “If it’s not done by May, it’s over.

    “We don’t want to raise any false hopes,” said Boland. “It’s going to be tough.”

    The cuts affect 18 historic sites across the state, including area attractions Black Hawk State Historic Site, the Carl Sandburg birthplace in Galesburg, and Jubilee College near Brimfield.

    Asked how the state sites would manage to be open for “special events,” site superintendent Martha Downey said, “The agency is working on those plans. Today, I’m thinking more of the four people who lost their jobs.”