Joliet council to decide if Casseday house becomes museum for African American history

Mayor wants to know more about financial prospects for new plan

The Casseday House, seen Monday evening, has sat unused an unimproved on a city-owned lot on Jackson Street in Joliet since the 19th Century building was moved there in March 2020 to save it from demolition. March 6, 2023.

A new plan has been made for the Casseday House, which was saved from demolition in 2020 but has become what some consider an eyesore since.

History on Wheels, a Joliet-based group that depicts the contributions African Americans have made to the nation’s military, wants to take over the 19th Century limestone house that was saved in a unique arrangement that so far has not worked out.

The Joliet City Council will vote Tuesday on a new arrangement for the 1851 house that is one of the oldest in the city. But some are skeptical whether the new plan will pan out, including Mayor Terry D’Arcy.

D’Arcy at a pre-council meeting on Monday said the council needs more information on how Luther Johnson, who heads History on Wheels, will fund the new plan to make the Casseday house a museum.

“And, we’d like to know what his annual budget is going to be to run it, so we can be assured it will continue,” D’Arcy said at the meeting.

City Planner Jayne Bernhard said she would get that information.

Berhnard told the council that Johnson has the money to “stabilize” the building and will turn to fundraising to get the money to turn it into a museum.

“He’s confident that he’s going to get more contributions than the previous owner,” Berhnard said.

The building now is in the hands of the Will County Historical Society, which took it after the house was moved from its original location at Jackson and Collins streets to make room for a Thontons gas station.

Thorntons paid $300,000 to cover the costs moving the 560-ton building about four blocks to its present location at Jackson and Youngs Avenue.

The Will County Historical Society at the time acknowledged fundraising would be a challenge but intended to create a museum that would chronicle local African American history.

So far, the building remains boarded up on a city-owned late that can be mired with mud during periods of rain.

Since the city owns the property on which the house sits, it also has the lease with the building owner. The council vote Tuesday will determine if the city will transfer the lease to History on Wheels.

City staff after meeting with Johnson believes he has the wherewithal to carry out the vision of making the Casseday House a museum devoted to African American history, according to a staff memo.

Council member Cesar Cardenas, who represents the 4th District where the Casseday house sits, said he was not so sure.

“I think I’m concerned about what the future of that site holds,” Cardenas said Monday.