As everyone must know by now, Illinois was founded 200 years ago (1818) and celebrations have begun statewide to commemorate the occasion. Since the state has no money to fund the party, several groups have taken it upon themselves to devise special events, pageants and even trivia contests.
DeKalb County has shown a lack of enthusiasm for this momentous year, although the new DeKalb County History Center is planning some programs.
About a year and a half ago, I made a presentation to the Sycamore Kiwanis Club. The topic was how we could celebrate the Bicentennial and put DeKalb County on the map – maybe help make us a tourist destination.
The six ideas were:
• Establish a countywide museum in the old DeKalb Elks Lodge at the corner of Lincoln Highway and First Street in DeKalb. Since then, a new countywide museum project has begun on the Engh Farm, a joint effort of the Sycamore History Museum, DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association and Joiner History Room.
• Acquire and move the Maple Grove schoolhouse on Pleasant Hill Road to county forest preserve district land next to the 1835 Miller Log Cabin. It may be too late now because of the building’s deteriorated condition.
• Restore the Annie Glidden house on the NIU campus as an agricultural landmark or as a student-centered use (vetoed by NIU Foundation and university officials).
• Buy and convert a large RV into a museum on wheels to share with the county’s schoolchildren. This is patterned after a “historymobile” I helped design out west, but declined by historical groups I approached here.
• Build a float in the shape of the iconic winged ear and travel around the state promoting our county (not unlike the Eakle battleship float back in the 1940s that toured the country for veterans special events and parades).
• Raise the funds to erect a 50-foot statue of Chief Shabbona (duplicating the Eternal Indian, aka Black Hawk statue on the Rock River near Oregon).
So looking over those ideas, I wonder whether groups, corporate entities or foundations would be willing to tackle a major project that could put us on the map and/or educate the populace about the heritage and history of the county and state.
Since I was unable to convince others of the merits of a historymobile or preserving the Annie Glidden house, how about the 50-foot Shabbona statue? It would honor the Indian chief who befriended the early settlers here and was instrumental in keeping settlers from harm when the Blackhawk rebellion broke out.
But where to locate it: near the Shabbona State Park off Route 30 or across the street from the courthouse in Sycamore on the empty corner lot? That could ignite a competition between the north and south in DeKalb County, not unlike the fight over the location of the courthouse.
There are only six months left until the Bicentennial passes. But I suppose there always is another historical opportunity
– 19 years from now DeKalb County will be
200 years old. But some of us might not be around to celebrate then.
Please share any grandiose ideas you might have for the Illinois Bicentennial and I will try to include some of them in a future column.