Portion of Hillcrest Home demolished

Sandy Hull
The north portion of Hillcrest Nursing Home, built in 1913, is in the process of being demolished.

    The north portion of Hillcrest Nursing Home, formerly the Henry County Poor Farm built in 1913, is in the process of being torn down.

Demolition began approximately two months ago according to Steve Boll, maintenance supervisor.

    “We (the maintenance staff) have been scrapping out the old building,” Boll stated. “We took everything out of the building that we might be able to use in the future, including doors, toilets, electrical panels, etc.”

    Hillcrest hasn’t housed any residents in the north portion of the building since 2004 according to Mary Bergren, Hillcrest Home administrator.

    “The Illinois Department of Public Health, who inspects nursing homes once a year, said the building did not pass the life safety inspection test,” stated Bergren. “We needed to add a fire sprinkler system throughout the building, which would have been impossible because of the way the building was constructed. It is pure concrete. They also wanted us to add private bathrooms and larger landings to the stairwells. There was no way to remodel the building to accommodate those two things because of how it was constructed.”

    Bergren also added that the north portion of the building could only be used for lighter care residents and Hillcrest has more skilled or therapy care residents.

    Even though the building hasn’t housed residents since 2004, the building was used for storage and employee offices.

    “We also used a big walk-in freezer/refrigerator in the north portion of the building, but now we have a new one, purchased with the help of a GIFT grant, near the current kitchen,” Bergren stated. “The GIFT Foundation also helped us when we moved our laundry facilities to the new building in 2006.”

    The employee offices are now located in an old activity room in the basement of the newer addition. Bergren said they use the main dining room as an activity room now.

    “It really works out well,” she stated. “Sometimes it was hard getting patients up and down in the elevator to the activity room and now the room is on the main level, easily accessible for everyone.”

    Taking down the north portion of the building is phase one of three possible phases according to Bergren.

    Phase two would be expanding the current dining room.   

    “Even though we have two hours of dining time for each meal, sometimes we’re pretty crowded,” Bergren stated. “A lot of time, we have outside family members or spouses who choose to dine with their loved ones and we love that and welcome that. We offer buffet dining.”

    If the dining room is expanded, they would also like to add an outdoor dining room for when the weather allows residents to be outside.

    “We are currently seeking proposals and prices for the project,” Bergren stated.

    The third phase of the project would be to add some senior apartments to the premises.

    “We need to do some more investigating before this might happen,” Bergren stated. “We need to see if this is something that is needed in this area. It would be nice for individuals who have a spouse already staying at the home.”

    If senior apartments were added, occupants could eat, attend activities or use transportation provided by Hillcrest, if they wanted to. 

    The building is being demolished by Champion Environmental Services of Gilberts. The board accepted a $199,000 bid in August from the company.

    “We are really happy with this company,” Bergren stated. “They are recycling most of the bricks and we are really excited they won’t be going to a landfill somewhere.”

    The board also accepted a bid of $14,400 from Ironwood Environmental of Rockford to remove some asbestos found in the building. Some additional asbestos was found later which cost an additional $4,425.

    The company has until Dec. 15, to complete the work.

     Before the building demolition began, two huge cement cornerstones were lifted from the building and placed behind a garage.

    “The cornerstones are huge,” Boll stated. “They probably weigh between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds each.”

    One cornerstone said Apsey and Fusch Co. were the contractors for the building which was built in 1913. J. Grant-Beadle was the architect.  R. B. Wilson was the superintendent of the Infirmary. Oscar Larson was the chairman of the project. Board members included A. J. Record, N. P. Nickerson, Charles G. Falk and H. Hutchinson.

    The other cornerstone listed Henry County Board members.  John F. Smith was chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Other board members included W. H. Lyle, E. J. Ray, W. C. Cole, Elisha Beadle, Elijah Storey, Hugh Hill, E. T. Cain, Carl Lager, E. Lauderbaugh, Wm. Papendich, C. W. Groves, James Nowers, A. J. Record, Elmer Fitzkee, H. Hutchinson, O. P. Nickerson, Oscar Larson, G. J. Jacobson, W. W. Stickney, S. P. Neystrom, Charles G. Falk, S. W. Shafer, L. F. Matteson, G. D. German, Julius Westerlund, W. H. Miller and A. W. Carlson. E. E. Fitch was the County Clerk.

    “These cornerstones will be displayed or used in some way during phase two or three,” Bergren stated.

    The history of Hillcrest Home goes back many years to the mid-1800s when the representatives of Henry County decided to create a “poor farm” to help care for the needs of the poor and homeless in the county. The poor farm, which was also referred to as the Henry County Infirmary, served the needs of people who had nowhere else to turn.

    In 1854, the original poor farm consisted of 120 acres of land, with two additional purchases at a later date of

102 acres.

    The home was accidentally burned to the ground one Sunday afternoon on July 28, 1912. The fire was supposed to have originated as a result of  an attempt to smoke out chimney swallows or pigeons that were nesting in an upper ventilator.

    Immediate plans were made for a new building and on Sept. 24, 1912, plans began for a new “fireproof” structure at a cost of $110,000.

    The home was divided into three sections, much like the former home, men on the north side, ladies on the south side and the center section was reserved for the warden who ran the poor house. On the first floor was a large infirmary, as well as a kitchen, bakery, fruit room, private dining quarters  for men and women, a milk room, a cold storage room and laundry.

    At that time there were 45 men and 18 women living at the farm. Normally, children were not housed there, but on few occasions it did happen.

    With the advent of the welfare program in the early 1940’s less people needed admission to the poor farm, reducing the population greatly and increasing the expense per individual. Numbers of inmates dwindled as low as 15.

    Henry County officials took the initiative to become the first county in the state of Illinois to convert their poor farm into a convalescent home. At that time, the name changed from the Poor Farm/Henry County Infirmary to the Henry County Convalescent Home.

    All 120 rooms were redecorated and the hospital quarters were completely rehabilitated.

    In 1957, the county decided to quit the farm operations of the home and began leasing the land out. There were 130 individuals living at the Home which was now under the supervision of a committee of county board supervisors.

    In 1970, the home was once again renamed to Hillcrest Home. In 1971, a new addition was added forming one half of a square with a nurse’s desk to serve the two hallways. The square was completed in 1976 when two additional hallways were added.

    Currently, Hillcrest Home has 106 beds licensed by the Department of Public Health. Intermediate and skilled care are offered, along with Hospice care and Respite care.

    “We average between 90 and 95 residents, year around,” stated Bergren. “It’s always nice to have a few extra beds so you don’t have to turn anyone away or if you need to isolate someone.”

    Hillcrest continues to be owned and operated by the people of Henry County, with the day-to-day operations of the home coordinated by Bergren. The Health and Human Services Committee which is comprised of four Henry County Board members, meets with Bergren one time per month to discuss activities of the home and approve bills. They in turn report to the County Board during the scheduled monthly meeting at the Henry County Courthouse.    

Hillcrest Home maintenance supervisor Steve Boll is shown with one of the cornerstones taken from the north portion of Hillcrest Home, formerly the Henry County Poor Farm built in 1913.