JOLIET – The 19th century home of Dr. William Dougall, an historic figure in Joliet who commanded a black regiment in the Civil War, could be coming down this year.
The house is in disrepair with back taxes owed, and one city official said it would have been torn down five years ago but for its historic value and the hope that it could be preserved.
But the Joliet Historical Preservation Commission this week declined to give approval to the demolition, putting the matter off to its next meeting July 27.
“When you talk about a property that has historical significance like this one does, it’s kind of tough to approve it because others didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” Quinn Adamowski, a commission member, said Wednesday as the commission considered whether to give its approval to demolition. “What are the options other than demolition?”
Options depend on money, and so far no one has had the money to spend to restore the 14-room, Victorian house at 209 Union St.
“As much as I hate saying it to you people in this room, it’s definitely an eyesore,” Alfredo Melesio, director of neighborhood services for Joliet, told the commission.
Dougall was a Joliet doctor who saw patients at the house, which he built in 1872. He had been the chief surgeon for the Illinois & Michigan Canal Division. Furniture and medical equipment from his office are on display at the Will County Historical Museum in Lockport.
Photographs of Dr. Dougall are part of a Civil War exhibit at the Joliet Area Historical Museum because of his service as captain of the Thirteen U.S. Colored Infantry during the Civil War.
Dougall served the same military role as Capt. Robert Shaw, who was depicted in the movie “Glory,” about a black regiment fighting for the Union in the Civil War, noted Greg Peerbolte, director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
“He’s significant,” Peerbolte said of Dougall. “At the time, they were called the colored regiments. The commanders of the colored regiments – there were not many at all. Anywhere he lived, he would be considered significant.”
Dougall’s house is part of the Joliet East Side Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
History and money
Historical significance and capital investment, unfortunately, don’t always match up.
Melesio pointed out the problem at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting.
“Something we’ve been dancing around all evening,” he said, “is we need better capitalized investors in historic districts. How do we do that?”
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has given its approval to demolition because of the condition of the house.
The house now is owned by the Christ Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith, which acquired it when it was already in disrepair. The church had hoped to use it for community services but has been unable to fix it up.
“It’s costly,” Pastor J.E. Moore said Thursday. “We tried to start restoring it with some of our people. It’s a slow process.”
Moore said the church paid about $30,000 for the house, making monthly payments. One vision was to make it available for the homeless.
“I would like to see it repaired,” Moore said. “For the church at this point, it’s going to be a burden for us to have it repaired.”
At the same time the city seeks to demolish the house, it is scheduled to go on auction in September for more than $20,000 in back taxes.
The predicament of the Dougall house is part of a wider problem in the city, said Michael Grady, another member of the Historic Preservation Commission.
Grady pointed to a historic three-story mansion at 903 Western Ave. once occupied by Patrick “Packey” McFarland, a professional boxer of some fame in the early 1900s.
The house has gone into foreclosure, has not been lived in for a year, and is beginning to deteriorate, Grady said.
“It’s a sin that we let this one get this far down the pike,” Grady said, arguing that the city should impose stiff fines on banks and other owners that allow properties to fall into disrepair.
The foreclosure process, however, has not yet been completed on the McFarland house, Melesio said. The city expects the house to be back on the market once the bank gets control, he said.
In the meantime, he said, city officials have been watching the place and cutting away shrubs that have overgrown to the point that they are blocking the view for motorists. They even found a door open recently and secured it, he said.
But, Melesio said stiff fines against property owners could just aggravate the problem of troubled properties, especially when owners are struggling to fund repairs.
“The fines you’re talking about will encourage people to walk away from the property,” he told Grady.