Three southern Illinois structures are among those identified as endangered by Landmarks Illinois. This year’s list includes the Hamilton Primary School in Otterville (Jersey County); Hotel Belleville, which last was used as a retirement home by the Belleville diocese; and the Old Millstadt Water Tower.
The water tower earned its status exactly because its form used to be so commonplace -- and is now rare. Every small town had a “Tin Man” tower – a large water tank on four long legs. (Remember the young Leonardo DiCaprio climbing one in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”?) The name derives from the top of the reservoir, which has a cone-shaped roof topped by a ball.
According to Landmarks Illinois, all but seven of these towers have been demolished in the state. The Millstadt tower was built in 1931.
This is the first time a water tower has been on the endangered list, Bonnie McDonald, the president of Landmarks Illinois, told St. Louis Public Radio, “I was able to check through all of our past 10 most endangered historic places list and indeed we have never listed a water tower before.”
A group, Friends of the Old Millstadt Water Tower, has formed to try to raise funds – and a long-term plan -- to save the tower.
In its last incarnation, Hotel Belleville was the Meredith Memorial Home. Built in 1931, the art deco building at 16 S. Illinois St. has long since lost its decorative cornice work. But photos on a website dedicated to saving the building show the distinctive architectural touches that remain.
After Belleville bought the building in 2010, the city announced plans to demolish it and put a memorial garden on the site, which is right off the town square.
A group of local individuals, marketing people and others started working with the Belleville Historical Society to preserve the building. Rick Ortiz, a web developer involved in the effort, said the group is applying to get the buildingon the National Register of Historic Places. That in turn would make tax credits available to a developer.
Ortiz said the group "came in late but got a lot of public support." Belleville, he said, has been cooperative, even letting some preservation money be used for a conditions assessment.
The city now is seeking proposals for the building’s redevelopment and has set a deadline of Nov. 30. Ortiz said his group has sought out a couple of developers, given them tours and connected them with the city.
According to the press announcement, the Hamilton School was started as the result of a bequest in 1834 to establish a “free and integrated” primary school, the first such school in Illinois. The current school is the second on the site -- 107 E. Main St. -- and was built in 1873. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned and operated by nonprofit organizations.
The deterioration of the roof, however, has reached a critical point in both the cost, which the organizations cannot meet, and the danger to the structural integrity of the building. Fundraising is underway.