Belleville commission wants to restore courthouse columns
The Belleville Historic Preservation Commission is hoping to reassemble the columns from the old St. Clair County Courthouse 47 years after they were demolished.
But first they would like to find more of the pieces that resulted when the courthouse, built in 1861, was knocked down in 1972 after a contentious debate.
At the time, some people bought pieces of the demolished courthouse to save them.
“We have 24 segments, enough for four columns about 14 feet high,” said Jack Le Chien, a member of the preservation commission and the ramrod behind the effort. He said not everyone shares his enthusiasm for the project but he sees it as a fitting monument to the history of Belleville, a city that was founded specifically to become the county seat.
The commission has the column segments that were saved by the late Bill Tayon, who had them at his old real estate office on North Belt East for quite a few years. But they have been stored as the idea of assembling them lagged. The site the commission would like to use is the old gas works which is being cleaned up in the wedge between West Main and Sixth streets.
They have a rendering of the project by Belleville architect Gary Karasek and building plans for the foundation and columns have been drawn up by Kaskaskia Engineering of Belleville. There also would be a plaque to explain the history of the courthouse, which in 1960 hosted a campaign speech by then Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.
Le Chien said they know where a few other segments are and would like to have as many as they can. He isn’t sure how tall the four columns originally were but estimated they could have been 30 feet or so.
Some money is available to the commission and the project would probably involve donations and fundraising if necessary.
There may be more enthusiasm for the project than thought. While I was talking to Le Chien, an acquittance of his stopped by to tell him of another potential site where there were column pieces.
They also would like to have pieces of the top frieze which went across the four columns at the old courthouse if anyone knows where they might be. Some of the courthouse was used as landfill at various locations around town, such as the eastern end of East Washington Street.
If you know of any pieces or are in any way interested in helping, you can call Le Chien at 235-6471.