Preserving Amboy’s History

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AMBOY — The Amboy Depot has long been the cornerstone and most recognizable landmark in the city of Amboy for over 140 years.  

If you walk around the building currently and look up, you will see the start of concrete cornice crumbling and falling to the ground. The building houses a museum for both the Illinois Central Railroad and interesting relics that tell a story of the history of the city. A major rehabilitation and restoration project is desperately needed now. Thanks to the diligence of Museum Chairman Linda Disney and Secretary Peggy Shapiro Horstman, along with many concerned citizens, this work will now become a reality.

Bringing the exterior back to it’s original glory doesn’t come cheap. When the project is fully completed which could take six to eight months, the cost will be in excess of $600,000. Shapiro Hortsman, the daughter of former State Senator David Shapiro (1973-1981) who persuaded the railroad to turn over ownership of the Depot to the city back in the 70’s, after tireless research was put in touch with the Starved Rock Country Community Foundation. This non for profit helps museums set up a 501(c)3 an IRS approved charity, which is a vehicle for people to donate money and then that money is invested by the foundation and dispersed to the non-profits by request. The Depot Museum is the first group to be accepted in Lee County. 

“It is a way for the Depot Museum’s charitable donations to be safely monitored and help us to attract bigger donors because it makes donations tax exempt where before, that wasn’t the case.” explained Shapiro Hortsman. 

So, you may be wondering reading this what exactly needs to be done to the building and why is it so costly? Christopher Fye, a Historical Architect who grew up in Freeport, performed a field survey to look at and measure the entire structure including the corners. He determined that a band of stones sitting underneath the parapet (the limestone edging at the top of the building)  and chimneys that extend out from the building  has a lot of moisture resulting in the deterioration and causing breakage. 

“Difficulty accessing what needs to be replaced above the troubled corners takes time and money,” said Fye. “New pieces can be 10 feet long and in excess of a thousand pounds and will go underneath the parapet,” he added. 

This is a project that not just anyone can do. Unfortunately, there was little to no upkeep to the exterior of the building. It might not be apparent just by looking at it, but when an expert looks at it up close, sadly, they can see it. Without this large sum of money currently available, and time needed to raise funding, the commission asked Fye for a ‘temporary ‘fix idea that will allow the museum to stay safely open. The proposed “Quick Fix,” approved by the Amboy City Council last April, would involve removing the current parapet and wrapping it in a metal cap, with an estimated cost of $50,000. Disney is pleased that there is now a starting point. 

“We are elated to have the right people in place and also with the guidance of the Starved Rock Foundation we know that they want to see small towns flourish and have our best interests in mind,” she said.

 There is a requirement and guidelines set forth by the Secretary of the Interior in order to be on the Illinois Historical Register, which the museum was placed on in 1992. Period specific materials must be used in order to maintain the integrity of the original construction. Although costly, the materials are vital to the future sustainability of the museum. 

“Today’s bricks and mortar are much harder and become brittle,” explained Fye. “Historic mortar breathes and bricks are more forgiving. Any mixture of old and new can spell disaster,” he further shared. 

 “Our goal is to restore the museum properly so future generations can appreciate the history and importance for many years to come.”