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‘Million Dollar Courthouse’ needs $20 million in fixes August 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, History, Preservation, Towns.
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Locals probably were startled and even irritated when the construction budget for the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville, Illinois, swelled from $50,000 to $1.3 million by the time it was finished in 1870. That’s why the landmark has been called the “Million Dollar Courthouse,” for good or ill, ever since.

Imagine their reaction when, more than a century later, if they found out proper repairs to the aging structure would likely top $20 million.

A story in the Springfield State Journal-Register detailed how about $200,000 in local and state money was used in 2012 to fix a deteriorating north stairway. But repairs aren’t done — not by a long shot, Harry Starr, chairman of the building and grounds committee of the Macoupin County Board, told the newspaper.

A leaking built-in gutter system and roof have resulted in water running into the interior of the building. Pieces of the limestone exterior have fallen off. The building needs improved accessibility, heating and ventilation work and more storage for records, officials say. [...]

The price tag to completely restore the 114-year-old building has been estimated as high as $20 million — money that isn’t available anywhere in a lump sum. [...]

“We’ve got a laundry list of stuff that needs to be done,” he said. “Where do we go next? There’s not a lot of funding around at any level.

“In the absence of a big chunk of money, we’re going to have to do it slowly and over time.”

A lot of blame was spread around for the courthouse’s initial cost overruns, but investigators never got to the bottom of it. According to the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce:

Not only was the courthouse an exorbitant expense to the taxpayers, rumors of a scandal involving misused appropriations also tarnished the project. Initially, the blame was laid on Judge Thaddeus Loomis and George H. Holliday, county clerk. Judge Loomis was apparently innocent of any wrongdoing. (We may never know the truth about Mr. Holliday, however, because one night in 1870, he boarded a train out of town and simply disappeared.)

In spite of the controversy, the Macoupin County Courthouse has become a source of pride in the area. It’s been praised by the American Institute of Architects, and Starr called it “the heart and soul of the county.”

Starr also said he’s noticed an increase in the number of tourists and tours stopping in Carlinville to see the courthouse during Route 66 tours. That provides yet another motivation to properly keep up the landmark — so it’s “cleaned up and shiny” for visitors.

Carlinville was part of Route 66 from 1926 to 1934, when it piggybacked on Illinois Highway 4 from Springfield. Route 66 then was realigned to the east, until both the old and newer sections of the Mother Road join up again south of Staunton, Illinois.

(Image of the Macoupin County Courthouse by Matt Turner via Flickr)

Comments»

1. ideabook2014 - August 18, 2014

It’s nice to read an article like this one now and then. One about something other than business, or tourists or some new 66 visitor center someplace. This article just relates to normal life and times in places along the route. Americana. I’m probably in a severe minority here with that attitude but honestly believe more attention should be paid to recollections of daily life vie info on European tourist traffic, old era businesses being sold and redone (nearly always in order to profit off what most believe is a windfall in enhanced tourist trade along Route 66) or keynote addresses being given at some gathering in Tulsa, Oklahoma or Barstow, California by self appointed 66 ‘leaders’ about something or other. I am probably one of the few who also reads and enjoys newsletters put out by each state’s Route 66 associations. Guess I’m a weirdo, but I enjoy those things. No offense to that guy, Jim something, who writes new 66 themed books every few minutes and always seems to be popping up whenever 66 and some profit opportunities arise. No offense, just a comment. I’m sure my thinking will have zero affect on things. Thanks for running the occasional article like this one.

Bo Carney - August 18, 2014

$20 million doesn’t seem out of line. I would budget $25 million. This is a significant historic structure. Part of this cost is long-deferred maintenance. Leaking gutters indicate major hidden damage.

Most local governments have to bond for major expenditures, but many counties are debt-averse. With interest rates at historic lows, now is the time to do this work. The pay as you go piecemeal approach will cost more in the long run and cause further deterioration.

Adherence to historic preservation standards is a must do. Those concealed gutters are prime targets for “cost savings”. Don’t cheapen this project up by compromising the integrity of the structure.

Oh, and dont give me this “easy for you to say – not your money”. Well, my response? Where is your building maintenance annual set-aside fund? Time to step up and “get er done”.

Here’s hoping this project moves forward. As historic building stewards, the County has a great responsibility and…..opportunity!

2. trainingpassion - August 18, 2014

Without supporting the tourism and businesses along Route 66; unfortunately, a lot of the Americana in the small towns along the route would either not be there today or be in a severe state of disrepair from lack of funds. Getting tourists out to the small towns along the route is how many of them keep going. I have driven the route and seen what lack of money and tourism (passersby) can do to a town. The ghost towns of the route tell that story. Although adding daily knowledge of happenings in the towns along the route is nice to hear, those towns also need commerce support. I actually love the towns that capitalize off their position on the Route. They tend to do a great job on educating about the history.

3. stevenkell - August 18, 2014

I was one of those tourists who happened to drop in to the courthouse in April this year. It was obviously desperately in need of repair, one of the stairs even being chained off. Metal cabinets were stored in hallways outside the courtrooms, all looking very sad. Our town hall in Brisbane, Queensland was showing its age but has just had a complete makeover and whatever money was spent was worth it.
There will never be a better time to get the money and inject this marvelous piece of architecture with a deserved uplift. Leave it a few more years and the bulldozers can move in.


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