SEVERAL HOMES of historic significance are in or near the planning corridor of the Illiana tollway. The Will County Historic Preservation Commission is asking they be considered in the planning process. They include these homes on West Kankakee River Drive — the pre-1873 Luther family home (left) at the former Bonnie View Farm, and (clockwise) the late 19th century home owned by George Markert, the Lynott summer home built in the early 1900s, the 1860s Stone family home and the 1873 structure believed to be the home of Andrew Markert.
Seven buildings that have historical significance are in the planning corridor of the proposed Illiana tollway, and the county's historic preservation commission is asking that the route be moved to avoid them.
"When the preservation commission met we realized some of the most historic and well preserved areas of Wilmington are in danger, and the others are just as important," said Sandy Vasko, commission president and executive director and Wesley Township resident.
The commission's comments reflect its members' concerns and what is important to the communities and rural areas throughout the Will County section of the Illiana from an historical perspective.
The most recent public comment period for the proposed roadway closed Monday, and included a submission by the Will County Historic Preservation Commission.
The commission asks for consideration of county historic landmarks, structures that should be landmarks but haven't been processed as such, and buildings that could be historically significant. These sites were identified throughout the county as the commission conducted its rural historical structural surveys.
In Wilmington, what could be termed as the suburban mansions of the city; the homes of the well-to-do families like the Markerts, Luthers and the Merrills; sit along West Kankakee River Drive. In the eyes of the commission, five of them should be county landmarks. They include the former homes of the owners of the Markert Brewery and the farmsteads of the Stone, Luther and Osborne families.
Vasko is most concerned about future of the Markert House and former brewery and the Luther house, because of their architecture and their importance to the history of the city.
According to the Wilmington Township Rural Historic Structural Survey, the former George Markert home is owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and is part of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie - which would prohibit construction of the Illiana near it.
The John P. Lynott summer house and another residence on the former Markert farmstead may also be historically significant, according to the commission. In addition, there are properties on Widow's Road and Stevens Lane that may be historically significant, and which are within the 2,000-foot wide Illiana planning corridor.
Landmarking those properties, or creating Will County's first historic district could be significant in the local fight against bringing the tollroad through the northern edge of Wilmington. Federal funds cannot be used to tear down landmarked structures, Vasko said.*
The commission proposed moving the route of the Illiana north, which would put it through the Midewin, or south which would create a greater impact on residents.
The commission's definition of impact for historic structures is much more sensitive than the Illinois Department of Transportation's definition. A century-old home's significance is diminished when instead of a lazy river and mature woodland, a multi-lane highway is in its back yard.
"If you have historic property 100 feet away from a highway, it's lost its context," Vasko explained. The department of transportation considers a number of factors before its activities are considered impacting, and a road could come within 10 feet of a structure.
There are also two Will County landmarks; the Soldier's Widow's Home laundry house owned by the city and the Bowen farmstead near the southern edge of the Illiana planning corridor. The Bowen property has potential for being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Florence Township properties of concern include the Howard Hyde house on Arsenal Road and the Kavanaugh family and Dixon-Jackson family farmsteads on Old Chicago Road.
"This area is very important to the preservation commission. We'll help fight for it," Vasko said.
The owners can still landmark their property, and creating an historic district would mean that the homeowners would not have to apply to the commission for a certificate of appropriateness when they want to make improvements.
Landmark status does not mean the owner loses the right to work on their homes. According to Vasko, the designation keeps the property from being demolished without the commission's OK, and the commission acts as a consultant on improvement matters.
"If they want their home to stay as it is now and protect it from being demolished," Vasko said.
The commission's comments point out its concerns and what is important. In the next phase of review, each property will be addressed.
The commission's Rural Historic Structural Surveys, by township, are available on its website, http://willcountylanduse.com/documents.
The Illiana would link Interstate 65 in Indiana with Interstate 55 in Illinois, and is a joint project of the two states' departments of transportation. The B3 corridor ending in Wilmington has emerged as the alternate to move forward for more detailed studies.
* The Will County Historic Preservation Commission clarified this information after this story appeared.
The use of federal funds requires that a Section 106 review be completed. If the activity will cause an adverse affect, the agency needs to take that into consideration and make accommodations, but ultimately a tear down can still occur.
It is the commission's hope is always that a tear down will not happen, but it is possible.
Editor's note: This newspaper tries to be fair and accurate in its reporting. When errors do occur, we appreciate the opportunity to correct them.