Community Foundation partnership creates funding opportunities for Amboy Depot Museum

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AMBOY — The Starved Rock Country Community Foundation is pleased to announce the establishment of two charitable funds in partnership with the Amboy Depot Commission. The funds were created to attract and facilitate financial contributions to the Amboy Depot Museum by generous donors to support both current operational expenses of the museum, and to ensure that the Museum exists in perpetuity through an Endowment fund. 

The mission of the Foundation is to connect people who care with causes that matter by creating  individual funds to positively impact charitable organizations who serve LaSalle, Bureau and Putnam Counties. 

“It was our mission and a knowledge of community foundations that led to our initial conversations about creating the funds for the Amboy Depot Museum, however, as often is the case, it was the relationships we discovered along the way that solidified it,” said Pamela Beckett, Founder and Past President of the SRCCF. Beckett said she learned early on that there was a lot more to the story than a simple inquiry about creating a fund to support the museum. “We created the SRCCF to enable individuals and corporations to support what’s important in their lives and in their friends’ and neighbors’ lives, now and long after those lives have ended,” said Beckett. 

Peggy Shapiro Horstman, the daughter of the late Illinois State Senator David Shapiro and his wife, Norma, life-long residents of Amboy, initially inquired about the work of the Community Foundation. Peggy then learned that Jay McCracken, a former classmate of hers, now living in Hennepin, was the first Chairman of the Board of the SRCCF. Jay’s father, Kenneth McCracken, was the Mayor of Amboy in the 1970’s, the same time when Peggy’s father was an Illinois State Senator. Both men were instrumental in the preservation of the Amboy Depot Museum, working tirelessly to secure funding for its preservation and continued operations. 

“Peggy was excited to reconnect with her former Amboy classmate, and learn of Jay’s role with us,” Beckett said, who later learned that Peggy had also been a University of Illinois classmate of Reed Wilson, the current Vice-Chair of the Community Foundation.  It was quite remarkable to hear about the friendship of David Shapiro and Ken McCracken, their commitment, and that of their families, to the museum. Several conversations and a few presentations later with the leadership of the City of Amboy and the Depot Commission led to the creation of the two funds in excess of $125,000 to support the Museum. The initial donations were made by a generous Amboy family and other contributors who want the Museum preserved forever. George Carizey, the current President of the SRCCF agrees that, “these are the kinds of wonderful stories we hear at the Community Foundation, and it’s heartwarming to partner with so many people who care about what matters in their community.”

The Amboy Depot Museum and its surrounding museum grounds were once a vibrant and vital part of Illinois History. At least six American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant, Zachary Taylor, William McKinley, Herbert Hoover, and Ronald Reagan are documented as having visited the Amboy Depot. 

Situated on what was the railyard of the Northern Division Headquarters of the Charter Line of the Illinois Central Railroad, it was the first line built by the railroad, running from Cairo, at the southernmost tip of Illinois, northward through Galena, to East Dubuque, in the extreme northwest corner of the state. When completed in 1855, it was the longest railroad line in the world. The primary building of the museum is the railroad depot, built in 1876, as a replacement for the original combination depot/hotel which had been constructed in 1854, but had been destroyed by fire in 1875. This current structure was built as a 19-room, two-story depot and division headquarters with an architecturally unique combination of brick and cut Joliet limestone. The Depot provided all facilities for a small-town depot, and as a division headquarters, it also contained two large walk-in vaults for storage of valuables and cash as well as additional rooms for dispatchers, civil engineering staff, accountants and all other workers needed to keep a division headquarters functioning.

However, in 1894, although having been described as “the finest IC division headquarters outside of Chicago,” the division headquarters functions in Amboy were discontinued by the railroad. The eight-foot tall and elaborately trimmed windows and doors, the eleven-foot-high ceilings, and the grand curved central stairway have all remained unmodified from their original design. The depot has thus been preserved in its nearly original configuration and provides a prime example of 19th century railroad architecture.

The depot operated in this scaled-back configuration until 1967, when the last station agent, Carl Edwards, died and the depot was closed by the railroad. Amboy’s Mayor, Kenneth McCracken, became concerned about the deteriorating landmark and took the initial steps to reverse its decline. By 1973, he had negotiated a long-term lease of the depot from the Illinois Central. He formed the Amboy Depot Commission to undertake what stabilization could be done. Commission members turned to local townspeople who donated everything from glass to replace the broken windowpanes to treasured family items donated for display in the fledgling museum. This basic restoration gradually allowed the depot to re-open in 1976, as a museum in what became Amboy’s Bi-Centennial project. The City of Amboy took title to the depot when the Illinois Central abandoned its Charter Line through Amboy in 1984. By 1991, after 115 years of exposure to the elements, and only cosmetic restoration of the building affordable, severe deterioration was underway. The beginning of the turnaround of the depot’s fate was its listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Adequate funding was secured to make major renovations and with the hard work of caring individuals, the depot’s Grand Opening as the Amboy Depot Museum was held on June 21, 2003.

The Amboy Depot Commission is currently facing a major fundraising challenge; $650,000 is needed for restoration and repairs to the depot building itself.  Donations should be made through the Starved Rock Country Community Foundation by cash, check or online at https://www.srccf.org/funds/Amboy-Depot-Museum-Endowment-Fund.  Donations to the fund are tax-deductible in accordance with IRS Guidelines.   

For additional information about the Depot Museum, visit www.amboymuseumdepot.org; email Amboydepotmuseum@gmail.com or find them on Facebook: Amboy Depot Museum. 

More information about the SRCCF is available at www.srccf.org; by calling the Foundation office at 815-252-2906, or sending an email to info@srccf.org.

The SRCCF is a tax-exempt charity that allows individuals, businesses and non-profit organizations to establish funds within the confines of one large Foundation to enhance to quality of life throughout Starved Rock Country. The Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization as designated by the IRS and the state of Illinois. Your financial contributions are tax-deductible in accordance with IRS guidelines.