SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — An 1890s orphanage for Black children, a theater that thrived in Peoria’s early 20th century heyday and the Chicago home of late blues legend Muddy Waters were named Tuesday to the 10 most endangered historic places in Illinois.
The preservationist group, Landmark Illinois, has released its annual list since 1995 with the mission of calling attention to the threatened sites, many of which are headed toward demolition. That includes Waters’ one-time Chicago home, which has been vacant for a decade and is in foreclosure proceedings.
Back in the day, owning a home symbolized a mark of achievement for Waters, who lived there from 1954 until the early 1970s, according to Tim Samuelson, a cultural historian with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. The brick row house became a gathering and rehearsal spot for several blues greats, including pianist Otis Spann and singer and guitar player Chester Burnett, or Howlin’ Wolf, as he was better known.
“Anybody who was anyone was in that house,” said Samuelson. “I always call it the real House of Blues “
Waters later moved to suburban Chicago and the home fell into disrepair after his 1983 death.
The list also noted a unique orphanage for black children. The Lincoln Colored Home, a now a boarded up brick building in downtown Springfield, was built in 1898 for black orphans and the elderly. By 1904 it was designated solely for children, who attended school, church services and were fed at the facility. Menus from the orphanage — now housed at the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum — listed daily breakfasts of oatmeal, prunes and bread and butter.
The home was closed and sold at auction in 1944 and it became a single family home. In 2005, according to Landmark Illinois, it was acquired by a former Tuskegee Airman raised in Springfield. The home fell into disrepair and received numerous demolition notices, but history buffs hope it can be restored and used for meeting space or storage by community groups.
“Because of its historic value, it’s been a big part of the African American community,” said Jerrie Blakely, head of the museum’s board. “It was a focal point. It was built by and for African Americans.”
Also on the list is the Madison Theater in Peoria, a 1922 theater which hosted vaudeville acts, silent films, movies with sound and later concerts. The theater was named to the National Register of Historic Places and closed in 2003. It’s been vacant since. Landmark Illinois called it “the last remaining icon of ‘Will It Play in Peoria?” the Vaudevillian adage coined in the central Illinois city.
Rounding out the list are the 19th century Newcomb Hotel in Quincy; several of Chicago’s moveable bridges; community mausoleums deteriorating in Beecher and Roodhouse; Gage House, a pre-Civil War home in Winnetka; Fox Lake’s Mineola Hotel; the Miner’s Institute in Collinsville and West Chicago’s Wiant House.
Landmark Illinois officials said that since it began the list designation, more than a third of the places have been saved.
“The sites named to the list are all exceptionally important to not only local residents, but the local economy,” Bonnie McDonald, President of Landmarks Illinois, said in a statement. “By calling attention to the potential for their reuse and revitalization, we are encouraging job creation and economic development across Illinois — something everyone can support.”