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Breathing old life into Matson

Old Matson building gifted to BCHS

PRINCETON — One of Bureau County’s historic landmark buildings, the Matson Public Library Building located at 15 Park Ave. West in Princeton, has acquired new owners, and the future looks very promising for this stately structure.

On Jan. 1, the Bureau County Historical Society gained title to the former Matson building by accepting the gift of the building from Robert Sash of the Tiskilwa area and Chicago. This donation by Sash was given in memory of his grandparents, Francis and Lucille Statler and Paul and Ethyl Sash.

More than 101 years ago — April 15, 1913, the Matson Public Library was dedicated, and for 94 years was regarded as Bureau County’s largest and most widely used public library. Financed privately by a local author and historian, Nehemiah Matson provided in his will for the construction of a community library, and the structure was built on land donated by the Sam Clark family.

Fast forward almost a century to 2007 when the library moved to a new location and the Matson building was sold at public auction to Sash. The Matson Library building has remained empty the past six and one-half years on Princeton’s courthouse square, raising questions about what would happen to this priceless, historical building. Now the former library building is about to have a second chance at a new and useful life as a county history and learning center.

“On behalf of the BCHS Board of Directors and its membership, I am deeply grateful to Mr. Sash for his generosity in giving the historic library building to the society,” stated Kathy Cartwright, president of the BCHS Board of Directors.

The historical society board of directors is developing a timeline for renovating the building and making it accessible to the public. Cartwright explained the BCHS will not be rushing into this project without developing a firm knowledge of what to expect. She estimates the project may take at least two years to complete. 

“We are taking this challenge very seriously, and no stone will be left unturned. We will be asking for the support of the entire community to help us realize the success of this project,” Cartwright added.

Specific plans for the building and information regarding renovation will be available to the public as they are developed. 

“At a time when our need for space has become critical, the gift from Mr. Sash is a dream come true,” Cartwright said, “We consider this a gift that will keep on giving in our community.

“We are hopeful that our greatest resource, the residents of Bureau County, will recognize the importance of saving this grand, historic structure allowing us to continue to tell the story of Bureau County,” Cartwright continued. “One hundred years from now, we envision people, both young and old, from near and far, entering the Matson building on a quest to experience and learn more about our rich, Bureau County history — just as many of us and our ancestors have done over the past century.”

BCHS Director Pam Lange said she is excited about the future of the organization and the possibilities the use of the former Matson Public Library will hold.

“The acquisition of the former Matson Public Library building is a great opportunity for the Historical Society to grow as an organization,” Lange said. “We’ll have room for changing exhibits, programs on Bureau County history, and space for our collections of photographs and other research materials.  It will be exciting to restore and reopen this building for the community.”

News and information on the BCHS can be found on its website — or by calling the museum at 815-875-2184.

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