History buffs hope to see old courthouse columns at new roundabout

News-DemocratJune 8, 2014 

After rolling from the old Belleville courthouse to a real estate agent's office and eventually landing at Bicentennial Park, some well-remembered limestone columns may have another final home.

History buffs in Belleville hope to decorate the northside roundabout at Illinois 158 and Illinois 13 with segments of the limestone columns from the old St. Clair County Courthouse, pulled down in 1972.

There is much yet to be determined, but "I think if we had a public appeal, there are enough people that have sentimental feelings about the old courthouse that we could get things done," says Jack Lechien of the Belleville Historic Preservation Commission.

Until at least the fall, each of the roundabouts on either side of Illinois 15 and Illinois 13 will be a circle of dirt. The northside roundabout is expected to be open for all traffic on Monday, weather permitting.

Tim Gregowicz, city engineer, has been working with city departments and interested residents on plans for the vegetation and any sculpture in the circles. The city expects to start planting boxwoods, reed grass, crape myrtles, drift roses, lantana and wave petunias in each circle starting in the fall.

Effinger's Garden Center won the landscaping contract from Belleville for $5,500, Gregowicz said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has approved Belleville's plans for landscaping, irrigation and electrical service to the circles, says Joe Monroe of IDOT's permits and operations unit.

Belleville's next step is to formalize plans on where and how to place the desired column segments and submit those plans to IDOT for approval.

Among IDOT's permitting considerations are visibility and safety, factors that will be weighed before any permit will be issued. The columns are almost 12 feet tall and, at their widest points, about 3 1/2 feet in diameter, Lechien said. The roundabout is about 115 feet in diameter, said project engineer Tom Borsch of IDOT.

The uncertainty of any landscaping beyond plants in the circle is not dissuading the column's proponents.

"Especially in this 200th anniversary year, let's use them as a focal point," Lechien said. "It would be hard to say what would have happened to Belleville if the county seat hadn't been moved here in 1814."

One member of the "roundabout group" working with Gregowicz is Molly McKenzie, who drives through the roundabout several times a day. The group was pondering a sculpture for one or both of the roundabouts, McKenzie said, when she attended a bicentennial meeting where Lechien asked if there were plans to erect the columns in the park where they now rest.

"It kind of seemed to fit," she said. "We wanted something in the circle, and people want to see the columns erected..."

The group would like to see the four columns standing parallel to Illinois 15, she said. But right now, it's a "wish list," she said.

Contact reporter Mary Cooley at mcooley@bnd.com or 618-239-2535.

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