PRINCETON — Princeton’s north and south business districts have been given state approval for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The decision was made Friday, Oct. 27, in Springfield by the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Princeton Mayor Joel Quiram was present at the meeting along with members of Princeton’s Historic Preservation Commission.
The advisory council heard presentations about Princeton’s business districts from one of its own board members, Terry Tatum, and listened to Quiram speak about the city’s historic significance before unanimously agreeing to forward the city’s application to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.
The National Park Service will give the final vote for Princeton and is expected to make its decision in January or February.
Quiram said two presentations and two votes took place on Friday — one for each of Princeton’s business districts.
Quiram said during the presentations, the council found two interesting factors about Princeton that sets it apart from other communities around the state.
For one, they said having two separate business districts was unusual, and they were interested in the history of how that came to be.
“Everything was around the courthouse square when Princeton was first developed, and then when the railroad came through, another business district popped up. They were really interested in that history,” Quiram said.
The second unusual factor the council noted was Princeton’s courthouse square being surrounded by homes. Quiram said the council is not aware of another city within the state that has a courthouse square surrounded by homes rather than commercial buildings. While many of the homes around Princeton’s courthouse square are residential businesses, they are still considered homes.
Quiram said the council also mentioned Princeton has had noted architects draw plans for buildings on Main Street.
Moving forward, Quiram said he was told on Friday that “it’s extremely rare when the federal government rejects a district a state has recommended.”
If this rings true for Princeton, it will mean a couple things for the city.
For one, Princeton will be able to use being listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a marketing tool to attract visitors interested in history and architecture.
Second, it will allow for significant tax credits for anyone interested in redeveloping property along Main Street back to its historical significance.
“I think it’s a 20 percent tax credit. So that’s a huge thing as far as incentives for reviving old buildings in our district,” Quiram said.
While current business owners may have concerns about possible restrictions being put on their buildings once they’re officially listed within the district, Quiram stressed being listed on the National Register of Historic Places won’t come with any adverse affects.
“If you own a building on Main Street and it’s on the list, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything you want to the building. It could be the most historic building on Main Street and you could tear it down if you wanted. Being on the list doesn’t keep you from doing what you want to your building,” he said.
Quiram did point out the city’s Historic Preservation Commission may come forward with ordinances that pertain specifically to the historic protection of buildings within the district. However, all ordinances would be heard and voted on by the city council before being set in place.
Quiram said the commission’s work is meant to provide guidelines for business and home owners interested in preserving historical significance rather than dictate specific rules, which has been a misconception throughout the process of getting Princeton listed on the National Register.
Quiram commended the work of the commission, which includes Ryan Keutzer, Steve Keutzer, Melissa Steele Wendt, David Gugerty, Steve Esme, Dan Martinkus and Robin Swift. Each member played a significant role in getting Princeton’s case heard by the council.
“Thanks also to Pam Lange who has been involved with this process since the beginning. In fact, Pam spent many months/hours on this project. She was assisted primarily by Michael Zearing and Melissa Steele Wendt. And to Scott Mehaffey, who first brought Frank Butterfield and Landmarks Illinois to Princeton and got us moving on the path we’re on,” he said.
“Without the commitment and love for our community by these individuals to make Princeton the best it can be for present and future generations, none of this would be happening.”
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