Rural Matters: This Building Is Worth Saving

As Rural Towns Struggle, A New Generation Looks To The Past To Keep Them Alive

Amy Hedges & her husband Ryan bought the Pawnee County Bank building, in Pawnee, Oklahoma, with the plan to restore it to its former glory and run a business there.

From coast to coast small rural towns have been fading away since the turn of the Twentieth Century. Especially those who’s existence is originally based around agriculture. Yet for every Danzig, North Dakota & Peacock, Texas there is a Pawnee, Oklahoma. And in those towns like Pawnee, are people like Amy Hedges.

Amy runs a popular Facebook page & group called Forgotten Oklahoma, which focuses on some of the less traveled and abandoned, or forgotten places across the state. Besides that, she also has a small business she runs and was interested in finding a building to buy and move into in one of the local towns in her area.  After some searching and conversations with some local civic leaders she purchased the old Pawnee County Bank that sits right on the corner of the town square in the town of Pawnee.

The building had seen several tenants over the years, but the upper floor has been vacant for decades. A leaking roof and masonry deterioration almost sent the building to the ground in 2016 after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the area, but the building was still in good enough shape to save.

The old Pawnee County Bank building in Pawnee, Oklahoma. It has seen better days, but with some help, it will be back to it’s old glory in the future.

Amy, is part of a growing trend in more than a few small rural towns, where adults like her who want to stay in the small town they love, but are not close to retirement, so they are finding ways to keep their livelihood and keep the town the grew up with in tact. Through her business and some donations, Amy plans on funding the restoration of much of the old building back to how it once looked. First things first, a professional masonry crew will work on restoring the south wall which lost much of it’s stone facade. A lot of the inside is plaster and lathe and she jokes that her husband Ryan will be taking care of some of the more labor intensive, but her and a few friends and local volunteers will be doing a lot of the cleaning out of the building.

While most of what has been left behind is just crumbling plaster and random junk, there have been some gems, like the walk-in safe, original light fixtures (although some are damaged), and an engraving set from way before most of us were born. While Amy plans to run her main business from the old bank lobby, along with being a base for her Forgotten Oklahoma photography, eventually part of the upstairs will be rehabbed for use as a possible room on Air B&B.

Another cool old building in Pawnee, the old steam laundry. While I hope this one gets some maintenance, it would be hard to imagine the interior going back to the way it was.

Beyond Amy’s bank, there are a few other businesses on the main square that have, or are saving their old buildings. As someone who has gone into restoring old houses before I know Amy & the others will probably get their fair share of folks upset that they removed some aspect of the original building, but the fact remains these places & towns will be off with the buildings being occupied, than being exact museum restorations.

Amy’s bank is one of several Rural Places That Matter and I’ll be writing about more of others as 2019 progresses.

Do you know of any rural places that are asking to be saved. Pass them on through our “connect page.”

Do you think the Pawnee Bank is worth saving? Here’s a link to the Pawnee Bank restoration GoFundMe, or if you really want to keep up with the giving, look at making a small monthly donation via The Forgotten Oklahoma Patreon.

The old upstairs dentist office in the Pawnee Bank building. If you’re in the Pawnee area, I’ve been told they’d be welcome to a volunteer with a broom and a shovel.

 

When your interior doors look this cool from aging you just have to dust them off and keep ’em that way.
The walk-in bank vault at the Pawnee Bank building.
The Pawnee County Bank building (far left) the Buffalo Theater (yellow building), along with and old hotel  and other businesses are part of the buildings that make up the town square in Pawnee, Oklahoma. They too have seen, or are seeing interest in restoration.

Abandoned Illinois College Campus Now An Arboretum Open To The Public

The Buildings Are In Decline, But This Abandoned Site Welcomes The Public

The former campus of Shimer College in Mount Carroll, Illinois is one of those amazingly beautiful places that make you cringe when you learn it’s abandoned.

People walk along tree line sidewalks of the Frances Wood Shimer Memorial Arboretum past the large brick & metal entrance gate to what was once the campus Shimer College, in Mt. Carroll, Illinois.  Part of the Lost Americana series. 
Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

Shimer College started as Mount Carroll Seminary, in Mount Carroll, Illinois in 1852 as a day school and while the buildings and name have had several changes over the past 166 years it remains a staple in the town.  In 1866, Frances Wood-Shimer who was one of the two original teachers for the school, would make the school female only. When she retired in 1896 the school was turned over to the University of Chicago, who renamed the school Frances Shimer Academy of The University of Chicago. A fire in 1906 destroyed the original main building on campus, but other new structures were not damaged. The University of Chicago renamed the school Shimer College in 1950. It became a coed school once again and began offering four year degrees, but 8 years later the schools parted ways, and Shimer continued on its own as a four year institution.

Abandoned for the first time

During the 1970s enrollment started to drop and the college moved to Waukegan, Illinois in 1979. The campus was put up for auction and was purchased by a group of local residents in 1980 who started the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation. It held workshops offering hands on training architectural  preservation as well as preservation training for people who worked in museums and libraries, or other historical preservation fields. The campus was also turned into an arboretum and made open to the public.

Metcalf Hall is the first building you see and possibly the grandest on the former Shimer College campus, in Mt. Carroll, Illinois. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

Abandoned for a second time

While it is unclear who owns the property now, from what I have done research on, according to some residents who live on the surround blocks, the Campbell Center, renamed The International Preservation Studies Center, relocated about a year or two ago to Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois and little has been done preserving the campus. The grass and landscaping has been kept up and doggy waste bag stations appear well stocked, but a neighbor said they were unsure who maintains the property now.

The one fact the people I talked to could agree on is that they fear the demise of the campus may be inevitable if someone doesn’t step in soon. As one resident pointed out, the cornice of the roof on Metcalf Hall as well as other buildings are suffering from water rot. And the tuck-pointing on several buildings is in bad shape. Although that might be the worst of it. Rumor has it that the buildings, most all but a set of dorms built in the 1960s, are full of their share of asbestos.

While I couldn’t confirm any of this next part, I was told that a Chinese company was looking at buying the campus recently, but news of deal in this small town of 1,600 has gone cold for now.

The Campbell Memorial Library on the Shimer College campus. Part of the Lost Americana series. 
Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Hathaway Hall on the abandoned campus of Shimer College, Mt. Carroll, Illinois. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Abandoned, but maybe not by the locals. The campus grounds of the old Shimer College are still mowed and the dog waste bag station is till stocked. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

Interesting factoids:

•One of the two original teachers recruited to run the school when it first opened in 1852 was named Cinderella Gregory. The other was Frances Wood, who would later go onto marry a man named Henry Shimer.

•Robert Conrad, of TV’s Black Sheep Squadron fame, filmed a made for TV comedy here in 1984 call “Hard Knox“, about a retired fighter pilot who becomes the head of a military high school.

•Also, as of this posting, Robert Conrad (born 1935) is still alive. His birth name was Conrad Robert Falk. And he’s originally from Chicago. Who knew? Besides him of course.

•I had to drive to Mt. Carroll to find a college right down the street from me. I live on Chicago’s south side and coincidentally not far from the University of Chicago, or from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), where Shimer College relocated to after it left Waukegan 2006. Ironically, Shimer once again relocated in 2017 and became part of North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.

The gymnasium at Shimer. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
A peak inside the gym doors. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
You can’t miss this place when you’re driving down Illinois Route 78 through Mt. Carroll. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
McKee Hall. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Walking around the abandoned campus of Shimer College in the fall is absolutely breath taking. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Did I ever mention I have a collection of photos of Historical Markers. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

 

Mt. Carroll, like many other rural towns is seeing the effects of a changing economic landscape as well as a declining population. While most of Market Street seems to be fairing better than most towns of 1,600 people these buildings at the tail end may be a sign of things to come. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Mt. Carroll, like many other rural towns is seeing the effects of a changing economic landscape as well as a declining population. While most of Market Street seems to be fairing better than most towns of 1,600 people these buildings at the tail end may be a sign of things to come. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Market Street, the main business strip in Mt. Carroll, seems to be doing a little better than other towns its size. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
Carroll County Court House, Mt. Carroll, Illinois. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
The Bridgewater Inn on Market Street in Mt. Carroll, looks to have been renovated and is open for reservations. Part of the Lost Americana series. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

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