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Illiana plan pits highway vs. history

The Soldier's Widow's Laundry House.  |  Supplied photo

The Soldier's Widow's Laundry House. | Supplied photo

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Updated: October 17, 2013 6:17AM



As the Interstate 355 southern extension was being built about 10 years ago, connecting Bolingbrook to New Lenox, Virginia Ferry watched as several buildings in its 12-mile path were demolished.

There were many old family farmsteads and the glamorous, sprawling 1950s stone ranch of Dr. Ray Kennedy, which some felt should have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places — but instead was cleared to make room for the interchange at Route 6 and Cedar Road in New Lenox.

Now, as lines are drawn on paper and computer screens for yet another highway that would run through Will County — the proposed Illiana Expressway — Ferry, chairman of the Will County Historic Preservation Commission, is working closely with the state to prevent something similar from happening again.

“I know we have to progress. But we have to save as much as we can,” Ferry said. “Unlike what happened with the construction of I-355, people who represent Illinois are coming to us and listening to us and are eager to hear what we have to say.”

The Illiana must comply with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 — specifically Section 106 — which requires the Federal Highway Administration to consider the impact such a highway would have on historic properties.

The impact is not just from the 2,000-foot-wide concrete road and its interchanges, but the potential visual, noise and vibration impacts one mile north and south of it.

Within the swath of the projected path lie the Beecher Mausoleum, Peotone’s Rathje Mill, the old Route 66, many significant sites in Wilmington and the town of Symerton.

The historical analysis is one of many studies being done along the corridor, all of which will comprise the project’s Environmental Impact Statement.

“They will have to balance all kinds of factors — environmental, engineering, historical. It’s a huge balancing act,” said Curt Paddock, director of the Will County land-use department.

But while the state is willing to listen and weigh all these competing interests, it may be impossible to satisfy them all, he said.

A work in progress

The alignment has not been finalized. But the preferred alignment — dubbed Corridor B3 — which traverses 46.8 miles from Interstate 55 in Wilmington east to Beecher and ties into Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind. — has no buildings along the route that are on the National Register of Historic Places, officials said. The preservation act does not consider local landmarks, only those on the National Register.

Still, there are concerns.

According to the Illiana Corridor website, three National Register properties are within the “Area of Potential Effects” (APE) — alternate Route 66, from Joliet to Wilmington, the Eagle Hotel in Wilmington, and the Rathje Mill.

Seven other sites that may be affected are recommended to be listed on the National Register, including a potential downtown Wilmington Historic District, the Soldiers’ Widows’ Laundry House, also in Wilmington, the John Baskerville farmstead in Florence Township, the Will County Fairgrounds in Peotone, the Beecher Mausoleum, a Peotone farmhouse at 2444 W. Corning Road and the Stauffenberg Farmstead in Manteno Township/Kankakee County.

The Will County Historic Preservation Commission also brought other sites to the state’s attention, preservation manager Eileen Franz said. They also believe the Small Towle House in downtown Wilmington should be listed, which is just outside the Area of Potential Effects, and the Bowen Farmstead, on Widows Road, within the APE.

More sites to consider

In an Aug. 16 letter to the Illinois Department of Transportation, Ferry pointed out that Florence Township also has two potential historic districts — the Midewin Buffer District and the village of Symerton, which, she said, “is an excellent example of an undisturbed hamlet,” and according to the 2010 census has a population of 87.

There are at least five sites along Widows Road and Kankakee River Drive in Wilmington that could comprise the Wilmington historic district, “a highly sensitive area that is rich in cultural history,” but the road will disturb this area and destroy the historic context of these sites, Ferry wrote to the state.

Wilmington was part of the Underground Railroad, the Historic Route 66 and includes a stretch of the Illinois & Michigan Canal.

The Illiana planning group determined that there could be adverse effects to the old Route 66, where two types of interchanges are being considered — a partial cloverleaf at Route 53 and an overpass at Riley Road.

The highway could also obscure the historic view of the Corning Road farmhouse and further compromise its setting, which already has been diminished by new development, it stated.

Otherwise, the group determined that there would be no negative impacts on the other sites.

According to Section 106, any adverse effects must be resolved by either avoiding the site, minimizing the impact or somehow mitigating it.

Franz noted that once a building is moved, it is not eligible for the National Register.

The commission also sent the state a list of about 50 local county landmarks and potential landmarks that it wants to be considered as well.

Since the alignment is not yet finalized, “we asked them to keep these in mind,” Franz said.

The Will County Historic Preservation Commission also has been actively involved in the planning process, which is still in the “very early” stages, said the county’s senior transportation planner, Alicia Hanzon.

Public hearings will be held in the fall on the final alignment, she said.

“They are trying to go above and beyond what is required,” she said of the state’s efforts.



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