The flagpole at the entrance to the North Island Park is now a landmark in the Will County Register of Historic Places, following action by the Will County Board last week.
"What a birthday present," commented Wilmington resident Bert Niehls, who celebrated years of hard work with the declaration that came the day before his birthday.
Niehls is building a memorial to the individuals who worked at the arsenal, or who contributed to the war effort by serving in the military. He applied for landmark status for the 95-foot tall flagpole that is the central focus of the memorial.
Although it is no longer in its original location in the White Circle housing unit off South Arsenal Road, the flagpole is one of the few items that survived the decommissioning of the former Joliet arsenal property and is largely intact with its original brass finial and cleat.
Will County Historic Preservation Commission staff member Eileen Franz said the Will County Board's Land Use and Development Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of landmark status last Tuesday, and the full board unanimously voted its approval on Thursday. It took two earlier meetings before the Historic Preservation Commission to earn a recommendation for approval, due in part to a lack of information about what was a secure military facility.
In April, Virginia Ferry, chairman of the Will County Historic Preservation Commission, said she initially wasn't sure she could support landmarking the flagpole, as there are criteria it doesn't meet, and only one picture was provided. However, Niehls brought residents before the commission who gave first-hand accounts of life on the assembly line or in the bustling community during the arsenal days. They explained how the facility shaped Wilmington, and emphasized that little of the munitions production plant has been preserved. The speakers illustrated the importance of the chapter in the community's history that the flagpole represents. Weighing the letter of the law against the spirit of the law, preservation prevailed.
Franz said seven members of the Historic Preservation Commission voted in favor of landmark status, with one member abstaining and one absent.
The County Board will present Niehls with a plaque noting the flagpole's landmark status in late summer, Franz said, for display at the site.
The flagpole is part of the Island City Flagpole Memorial and Monument, which when complete will include three granite monuments and paving stones memorializing individuals who worked at the arsenal and those who went to war.
Half the memorial stones have already been sold, engraved and installed, and Niehls is still selling them for $100 each. He has to sell about 190 more to be able to pay for the granite monuments that will complete the feature, and expects to have to hold a fundraiser or two to cover the difference between the 2007 price and current prices. Order forms for the stone are available at The Free Press Advocate office, 111 S. Water St., Wilmington.
The flagpole is the fourth county landmark in the city limits. The city-owned Soldiers Widows Home laundry house on Widows Road, the octagon house on South Water Street, and the Small-Towle house on County Road have also received landmark status. City officials abandoned the process of landmarking the old city hall building on North Main Street.