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Local News

Casseday House moved but not a museum yet

It was one thing to move a 19th Century, limestone house weighing more than 1 million pounds four city blocks to a new location. It will be another to turn it into a museum.

There is no budget or money or timetable for the future museum dedicated to local African American history to be created at the Casseday house at its new location.

But there is enthusiasm.

"I am ecstatic," said Sandy Vasko, president of the Will County Historical Society. "Just to see it there is really amazing. And what a great thing for our historical society – it fell into our laps."

The Will County Historical Society was called upon to take the building in the effort to preserve the house built for George Casseday and his family in 1851.

The house was moved two weeks ago to make room for construction of a Thorntons gas station at Jackson and Collins streets. It is now at a Jackson Street location near Youngs Avenue.

Thorntons contributed more than $300,000 for the move.

Vasko said the historical society had to go to Thorntons for more money beyond the company's original contribution because the move was so expensive. Thorntons came through. But the historical society has no money remaining on which to begin building a budget for the museum.

"It's going to be an uphill kind of thing, but Thorntons was so good," Vasko said.

Just saving the house was an uphill battle. It had been slated for demolition,

"It just goes to show that determination can overcome many obstacles," said Mary Beth Gannon, a Joliet resident who led the grass-roots preservation effort. "Everyone told me it would never happen."

Turning it into a museum may be even tougher.

The Will County Historical Society has some experience in putting historical buildings to new use. The society created Heritage Village in Lockport from 19th Century buildings around the county.

The project was funded with donations from corporations, and Vasko said the historical society will probably turn to private business again once it determines how much it will cost to convert the Casseday house into a museum.

But Vasko said the public can help fund the future museum just by joining the Will County Historical Society at willhistory.org.

"That way they also get a voice in what goes on there," she said.

The historical society already has some people with knowledge of local African American history, including Larry McClellan, a professor at Governors State University, involved in the initial planning for the museum. But the society will look for more members of a museum committee yet to be formed, Vasko said.

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