Original 1846 Mill Race structure on endangered list in Geneva

Landmarks Illinois supports efforts to save it from wrecking ball

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GENEVA – Landmarks Illinois has listed the 1846 limestone structure in Geneva that is an original part of the former Mill Race Inn as one of its 2018 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.

The Amasa White House, 757 E. Fabyan Parkway, Geneva, an 1846 limestone house owned by Kane County, also was listed as endangered.

The Mill Race Inn structure, 4 E. State St., is owned by the Shodeen Family Foundation, which seeks to demolish it as Shodeen can't find another use for the building in its redevelopment of the site.

Meanwhile, preservationists won a recommendation of landmark status for it from the Historic Preservation Commission. The City Council is scheduled to take final action on that status as its May 7 meeting.

Designating it as a landmark would delay its demolition while alternative uses could be explored, preservationists said.

But now Landmarks Illinois has weighed in, offering a free evaluation of the building for possible rehabilitation and reuse. The nonprofit’s interest has further highlighted the structure’s endangered status.

Lisa Dichiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois, said the nonprofit supports the preservationists’ efforts.

“We agree it’s a really rare building of its type and period,” Dichiera said. “And the interesting thing is, when the owner took off the layered additions, they revealed the original structure and sort of brought back its historic integrity – ironically.”

The structure’s masonry walls are intact, and though it’s missing some portions from its top, Dichiera said that can be rebuilt.

“It’s very rare from the standpoint of being part of the early commercial/manufacturing building of the 1840s on the river,” Dichiera said. “It’s one of those buildings that contribute to the wonderful downtown historic history of Geneva.”

As an example of early settlement history, Dichiera said the nonprofit’s position would be that it could be reused on its own or incorporated into something larger on the same site.

“The City Council has to make a decision here on whether to accept the recommendation of its Historic Preservation Commission,” Dichiera said. “This building is too important to let be demolished. The priority here is to find a solution.”

David Patzelt, president of the Shodeen Group, said if aldermen support landmark status, it does not mean the owners are obligated to restore it.

As to Landmarks Illinois’ opinion of the structure, Patzelt said it was unfortunate that they have not reviewed actual photographs of the existing condition of the structure.

Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois, wrote a letter dated April 27 to the mayor and city council, urging that it be preserved.

“[Landmarks Illinois] is familiar with other early limestone buildings in Illinois that were highly deteriorated, landmarked and saved,” McDonald wrote. “These include the 1861 limestone Eldred House in Greene County, and the 1849 Emmert Spring House in Mt. Carroll [in] Stephenson County.”

Both were listed in the National Register of Historic Places while in their deteriorated states before rehabilitation, McDonald wrote.

“[Landmarks Illinois] is willing to provide pro bono evaluation of the building to help determine a viable rehabilitation and reuse plan,” McDonald’s letter stated.

Amasa White House

The two-story limestone house is the former home of the White family, who settled in Geneva in 1838. The building is considered endangered because it has been vacant and without a proposed use for so long, according to the Landmarks Illinois documents.

The Greek Revival style of the house is where the White family raised nine children, “many of whom went on to become involved in many of Geneva’s manufacturing and production industries,” documents show.

“Amasa White was a farmer who became a prominent Geneva resident,” according to Landmarks Illinois. “He also earned a significant profit from cutting and selling timber from his land. He had an interest in the progressive movements of the time and was also an appointed member of the building committee for the Geneva Unitarian Church, which was completed in 1843.”

“The reason we paired these very early 1840s settlement properties – the Mill Race Inn as part of manufacturing and commercial development, and this one being residential of the same period – is because this is Illinois’ bicentennial year,” Dichiera said.

“These two properties totally represent the bicentennial,” Dichiera said. “It was a really good time to bring attention to it as a way to encourage people to reach out to the county … that they would like to see something done with it.”

As with the Mill Race Inn property, Dichiera said Landmarks Illinois would assist county officials as part of a study committee or analysis of what needs to be done for rehabilitation.

“We really do think the county wants to do the right thing,” Dichiera said. “It’s just sometimes we feel like we need to bring it back to the public eye. … It’s a lovely house, so reflective of early settlement history. … The County Board probably just needs to know from people that they care about this building.”

Kane County Historic Preservation Commission Chairwoman Shauna Wiet said though the Amasa White House has been “mothballed,” the county has tried to be good stewards and protect it from the elements.

“It needs a use and occupants,” Wiet said. “There was a plan for it before the market collapsed. Now things are back and development is picking up, there will be a project that will come forward that will integrate it and give it a use.”

Wiet said the county will likely start seeking proposals for it within the next 18 months.