PART II — WITH the coming of the century, turning from the 1800’s to the 1900’s, citizens were as excited then as we were in 2000, a hundred years later—and they didn’t have computers to worry about.
The decade leading up to 1900 had been filled with changes and muddles, snags and controversy. For one, there was a situation you might not have known about—Freeport was, in the beginning, two separate towns, Original Town (O.T.) Freeport and West Freeport.
Each having a single municipality to govern it. Original Town voted to annex the Powell/Waddell part of West Freeport, conjoining it with O.T. Then in 1889 they attempted to annex a large area in Harlem Township west of Whistler Avenue. Its citizens immediately went to court in protest. Litigation went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court which declared the annexation null and void. Following that victory, Dr. W.W. Krape and thirty-nine other residents of West Freeport had their portion made into a separate municipality legally. Reference states that the west end did little else than guard against annexation. In 1909 then they agreed to join Original Town in exchange for a fire station which was accomplished in 1912 with construction of the Lincoln Boulevard Station. The boundaries have continued to move westward.
“Tutty” would hardly recognize the town he so desired if he could see it now. When he came in late 1835, early 1836, it was a kind hardscrabble Winnebago village that he and his “land company” planned to invest in with several plots of property. William Kirkpatrick and Smith Galbraith being his partners.
Their names are found in many other places in the Northwest as promoters and investors. Other such companies abounded.
“Tutty” who wanted to live in a town rather than a farm was said to have encouraged “wide-open town,” its citizens doing as they dreamed. But human nature being what it is, blocks, streets, alleys, limits had to be planned out or turmoil would be a rule. If not, the free-port would lose out to other towns where normal regulations were over all.
Stage coach routes came, then the locals for between towns. Railroads then hurried the distant horizon and the future to their depot. Usual events occurred—schools, churches, new businesses, ventures unheard of in the contemporary way. Municipal government, officers, townships and county units developed. And then loomed the millennia. Some collective mind stirred the creativity of citizens everywhere. Prepare for the future. Who’s the future? What we can do. Leave a legacy for generations to come.
In 1898, after considerable study, it was decided to build a City Hall which would have under the same roof a fire station, police department, jail, administrative offices for all departments and services, council chambers and the public library.
As you can see in the illustration here taken from the 1970 Stephenson County history, the result was an impressive monument to a time period when still permanency and taste still outweighed pinching pennies. The focus was to make current citizens proud of their community and that an “anchor” was important to keep residents satisfied that they had grand things to be pointed out. Looking today at such buildings we understand that our forefathers were building with us in mind. Solid. Permanent. Tasteful architecture of the time.
After a study of several months, it was announced in 1898 that a City Hall would be constructed at the site of the present fire station, northeast corner of West Stephenson and Walnut Avenue. It would incorporate all city offices and services: Fire Station and Police Department, Jail, Council Chambers, Mayor’s Office, City Clerk, Water Department, etc. and the Public Library. It would be built with red Portage stone on the first level and quality pressed red brick for the second story. It would be in Colonial and Tuscan style. The cost would approximate $61,000.00.
By May of 1899 it was published that the cornerstone wold soon be laid, its two exposed sides would carry the date, names of the mayor and city clerk’s names, of the building committee; seven in all. The other side would credit the two Masonic lodges, the Excelsior and the Evergreen, with would conduct the ceremony noting the completion of the City Hall. Into the stone would be placed the five Freeport newspapers, current money, souvenirs of the area, trinkets in fashion, etc. and with the names of the two Masonic Grandmasters also. It named anyone who was anyone in the hierarchy of the town! Everyone?
D.S. Shureman had been chosen as architect for the building. It was he who would direct styles, consult, adjust, adapt, see to materials of quality; put it all together in other words. He quietly asked if his name, too, could be added to the names on the cornerstone. An empathetic NO was the answer. This was a local landmark. An “outsider” would not be included. Although he may have been hurt by the denial, Shureman apparently, acquiesced with tact, saying nothing more but as the opening phrase last week has stated, there was more than one way to skin a cat.
Work went steadily ahead with Freeporters watching the progress of the massive stone building and nothing more was thought of this omission.
Announcement was made in February, 1900 that the construction was nearing completion and an open house would be held for public viewing. the furniture, however, had yet to arrive. A “preview” of the interior was printed in the newspaper, a shortened version follows:
Most of the floors were of marble of six different sources. they had Grecian mosaic tile borders. Olive, light olive, Electric blue, Red terra cotta and ivory with salmon lotus trim were the most striking colors of the walls (and we think we “invented” those bold hues!!!). Ornamentation in the rooms were a variety of styles such as Louis XV, Empire, Italian Renaissance and so forth, with themes throughout such as heraldic for the police court. One of the murals was of Truth, Justice, Government depicted. Note was made of the slate roof which had copper ridges along with the same for the eaves troughs, and gutters. (Long-lived materials were emphasized.) Animal stalls for the fire department’s horses were marble as were closets, partitions, jail, etc. Stairs were in heavy iron with oak rails, each of which would bear eight hundred pounds of weight.
Memorial Day approached, the dedication of the building coincident with it.
Visiting dignitaries, Masonic, would be met at the Illinois Central Depot to be escorted to the City Hall site. They would be accompanied by the Mayor and Clerk, Aldermen, the Henney Co. Band, a boys brigade, Co. L GAR, etc. and led by the Chief of Police with “his intrepid men.” Following the solemn ritual and the words of local importance, dignitaries and the audience, that numbered about three hundred, formed an entourage and waked to the City Cemetery where memorial services were conducted.
In the months since the cornerstone had been laid, the architect, D.S. Shureman, had gone about his multitude of duties with precision, in detail and carrying out his many duties with good grace although he had been denied a place among the cornerstone names. At various times he had interjected ideas, suggestions that would accent, appeal and further the importance of the building that included all city offices and services. Because he said, the building would include a public library why not add a frieze of names of literary and science famed to let local citizens and passers-by know that Freeporters were cognizant of famous figures from the historical past. And this was the site where information about them could be pursued. The City Council, Mayor, all were enthusiastic and gave permission. He submitted a list of names to run as a ribbon tying it all together at the top of the building: Dante - Shakespeare - Spencer - Chaucer - Homer - Ulland - Rabalaise - Emerson - Milton - Addison - Newton. Even though some of the names might not be familiar to some, they could be read up on when the library was installed, couldn’t they? No one saw Mr. Shureman laughing up his sleeve.
The decorative frieze was an unusual accent, its novelty to be pointed out and referred to but no one knows who figured out the method Shureman had skinned the cat; gotten his name on the City Hall building but not on the cornerstone. When discovered, the mayor and council were apoplectic, furious. The citizenry bent over in hilarity for weeks after. There was no way to erase the architect’s name which had been done in the decorative frieze ... The first letter of each of the famous figures on it if laid out would spell D.S. SHUREMAN for all eternity, more prominent actually than those on the cornerstone! Look up and enjoy the joke and realize there’s more than one way to solve a problem, “to skin a cat.”
And the ironic part is, the public library never came to be housed in the massive red stone building. It went elsewhere!