Plans for proposed Joliet African American military museum at Casseday House stall

City may consider adding ‘performance measures’ to lease

A new plan for the Casseday House stalled this week.

The Joliet City Council on Tuesday tabled a vote to lease the city-owned land on which the house sits to Luther Johnson, who wants to convert the 19th Century limestone house into a museum devoted to the contributions of local African Americans in the U.S. military.

Johnson wants to take up the cause that originated more than three years ago when the Will County Historical Society agreed to take ownership of the house with a plan to create a museum devoted to local African American history.

The museum has never developed.

“The building’s been sitting there for three years,” Johnson told the council. “No one has done anything. I’m the only one who has submitted a viable plan.”

“If we do nothing, it’s just going to sit there and deteriorate. We should at least give him a chance.”

—  Jan Quillman, Joliet city councilwoman

Johnson head History on Wheels, a Joliet-based nonprofit devoted to reenactments and other depictions of African Americans in U.S. military history.

Councilman Cesar Cardenas, however, asked that the vote on the lease be delayed until the Nov. 21 meeting so he and other council members could take a closer look at the lease agreement and Johnson’s plan.

“I’m not against the project,” Cardenas said.

But he questioned whether Johnson could raise up to $500,000 that may be needed to get the museum going.

The Casseday House can be seen at its new location near the corner of Youngs Avenue and East Jackson Street on Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020, in Joliet, Ill.

Johnson said the project could cost $200,000 to $400,000 but added, “That’s modest.”

The council voted 7-2 to table the vote on the lease.

Councilwoman Jan Quillman, who voted against delaying the vote, said the city has “nothing to lose” by approving the lease so Johnson can begin work on the house.

“If we do nothing, it’s just going to sit there and deteriorate,” Quillman said. “We should at least give him a chance.”

Mayor Terry D’Arcy suggested the lease should contain “performance measures” so the city would have some recourse if Johnson is unable to move ahead with his plan.

Johnson would take over the same lease that was given to the Will County Historical Society in 2020.

The Casseday house, built in 1851 out of Joliet limestone, is believed to be one of the oldest houses in Joliet.

It was to be demolished to make room for the Thorntons gas station now at Collins and Jackson streets. But preservationists urged that the house be saved. The city worked out an arrangement in which Thorntons paid $300,000 to move the house four blocks west to a city-owned lot at Jackson and Youngs Avenue.

The Will County Historical Society agreed to take ownership of the house but wants to transfer the building to Johnson after being unable to raise money for the museum.