State to reopen 11 shuttered historic sites

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The odors of fresh cut grass and drying lacquer smell sweet to Don Hallmark.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The odors of fresh cut grass and drying lacquer smell sweet to Don Hallmark. The site manager for the Dana Thomas House, a state historic site in Springfield designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is ready to welcome visitors after a nearly five-month hiatus. The house and 10 other historic sites across Illinois are scheduled to reopen Thursday after shutting down to help close a budget deficit measured in the billions. "I hope never to have to go through this again," said Hallmark, who babysat the empty home and fielded countless phone calls from disappointed tourists. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich ordered the historic sites and some state parks closed on Dec. 1. Two months later, legislators threw him out of office after his arrest on federal corruption charges. His successor, Gov. Pat Quinn, immediately promised to reopen the attractions, which he says help boost Illinois tourism and employ scores of people. It didn’t make sense to "squeeze a nickel and lose half dollars," Quinn said. All 33 historic site workers were offered their jobs back, though some have already found new employment. Many historic sites now lean on volunteers who give tours and can help out with general duties while the state looks to fill vacancies. It will cost the state $800,000 to keep all 11 historic sites up and running through June 30, the end of the budget year, said David Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Quinn has already ordered the sites to remain open under the next budget, even as he cuts spending in other areas, Blanchette said. All the shuttered museums, forts and courthouses expected to reopen Thursday, including a farm owned by Abraham Lincoln near Charleston and the oldest Illinois court house just south of St. Louis. Quinn planned to attend the reopening of the Dana-Thomas House. Hallmark, the only employee left to watch over the unique 16-level house while it was closed, said it was bizarre to maintain an empty building that normally buzzes with more than 100 visitors each day. But when he heard the site would reopen, he and volunteers got to work on last-minute repairs, uncovered the antique furniture and mowed the lawn. "We knew the house was just too important to stay closed," he said. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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