Knoxville, Ill., is a small city with big historic charm, and the preservation of that history is important to residents.
That’s why in January the Knoxville City Council unanimously approved spending $73,150 on replacing all but two of the windows at the Old Courthouse, which sits in the heart of the city.
The courthouse is a square, red-brick building with 33 windows and four Doric columns at the entrance. It was built in 1839 and used as the county courthouse for nearly 40 years before the county seat was moved to nearby Galesburg, Ill. After the county seat moved, the building was used for various city functions, and the east side was converted into a fire station.
“The Old Courthouse is our signature building in town,” said Peg Bivens, president of Knox County Historical Sites Inc. “It has had multiple uses over the years, but began to fall into decline in the 1950s. When that happened, a grassroots effort formed the city’s historical society and decided that we had to do something to preserve our buildings.”
That historical society — Knox County Historical Sites Inc. — formed to restore the courthouse, which is now home to the Knox County Museum and features many architectural elements original to the building. The society also tends to the upkeep of the rest of the city’s historical buildings.
As the society’s first restoration project and the city’s most distinctive landmark, the maintenance of the Old Courthouse is of utmost importance.
“A lot of effort has gone into keeping the Old Courthouse up physically and finding uses for it in the community,” Bivens said. “One of the distinctive things about the building’s architectural style is the 33 windows. It’s a big attraction, especially when the building is decorated for Christmas with lights and decorations in each of the windows.”
Bivens said in recent years the state of the windows has been a big topic of conversation. Noting the time period in which the building was constructed, a newfound desire for energy efficiency and architectural integrity was of special concern to citizens when discussing the need to replace the building’s windows.
“We’ve been working the last couple years to find some way of preserving the distinctive look of the building while cutting down on maintenance, being energy efficient and dealing with the architectural component the windows play in the structure itself,” she said. “We were looking for something with a nice balance of taking advantage of new technology like energy efficiency and maintaining the building’s historic look.”
Enter Glass Specialty WLC of Galesburg, Ill. The family business has been in the glass preservation and repair business for over four decades and was the right fit for Knoxville’s job.
“The older windows were falling apart,” Glass Specialty Manager Chad Springer said. “They were looking to update it with more efficient materials but wanted the windows to have the same historic look.”
In order to fulfill the city’s wish list, Springer said they worked with various suppliers until they found a window that would blend well with the rest of the building. Then they got to work on the energy efficiency, opting to use double-paned glass to be cost effective.
“The double pane gives you more insulation, protects artifacts inside from sunlight and saves money in the long run,” Springer said.
The entire project will take about two weeks to complete once it’s started, and Springer said the crew will work hard to maintain the original trim and as much wood around the window as it can.
While a majority of the courthouse windows will be replaced, two originals will remain.
“After an inspection of the building, it was decided we could leave two original windows that were sheltered from the weather so people could see what the windows actually looked like,” Mayor Dennis Maurer said. “Everything blends together and looks fantastic.”
Maurer noted the replacement of the courthouse windows as a wise move not only for cosmetic reasons, but for the city’s revenue.
“We don’t have a lot of industry here in Knoxville, so tourism is important to us,” he said. “Preserving the history of the county is very important to the city as that’s what people come here to see. We wanted to keep as much of (the courthouse) looking as close to the original as we could for this reason.”
Bivens agreed, noting that historic preservation and tourism oftentimes go hand in hand.
“Historic preservation gets lumped into the tourism industry,” she said. “If you don’t keep those buildings up, nobody is going to come see them. What Knoxville has done over the years is taken a resource we already have and built on that and worked out a partnership with the historic sites organization.”
The most crucial component of maintaining historic buildings? Community support, Bivens said.
“It’s expensive to maintain historic buildings, we all know that,” she said. “Having municipal resources backing us, our societies can provide the expertise and hands-on management. We have the time and focus to help guide the council on issues of the historic nature so they don’t have to spend an undue amount of time on the intricacies of the historic preservation. We can help advise them on that and then our board attracts people who have a heartfelt interest in historic preservation.”