The first attempts of historic preservation were government purchases through private funds. The home of our first President George Washington, Mount Vernon, was threatened with demolition and that threat lead to its purchase for preservation. New York, Philadelphia and the federal government followed suit with purchases of historic sites and structures, such as Civil Way sites. Historic Preservation slowly evolved, and one of the most effective techniques used today are PRESERVATION ORDINANCES.
In 1925, New Orleans created one of the first Historic Preservation Commissions based on the state's constitutional rights. Charleston, South Carolina and Santa Fe, New Mexico followed suit. By 1950 a handful of ordinances were in existence. Historic Preservation has slowly become legally acceptable as a government regulatory power. Following this national sentiment, more and more cities and states have established Historic Preservation Commissions.
In 1984, the state of Illinois passed the County Historic Preservation Act, which gave counties the right to establish Historic Preservation Commissions. “The purpose of this Act is to identify, protect, preserve, and provide for the restoration, rehabilitation, and continued use of buildings, structures, objects, areas, sites, and landscapes that are of historic, archeological, architectural or scenic significance; to foster education, interest and pride in the beauty and -accomplishments of the past; to promote economic development through protection and enhancement of resources important to tourism and business; to conserve and improve the value of real property and the property tax base; to insure orderly, efficient and harmonious development; to encourage cooperation between municipalities and counties; and to promote the general welfare” (Illinois Statute). The Act calls for the establishment of a study committee to determine the need for historic preservation and write an ordinance for preservation. Once this step is completed, the County Board will vote to establish a permanent Historic Preservation Commission or not. The Commission has the right, for example, to nominate landmarks and review any proposed alterations to these structures.
In 1985, the McHenry County Department of Planning and Development completed a survey of the county which documented 4,867 structures of historic age (pre 1945). This study was funded by state and county moneys. During 1990, the McHenry County Planning Commission recommended the McHenry County Board establish an Historic Preservation Study Committee. Resolution R9005-1200-53 was passed on May 15, 1990, which established such a committee. At this point, nine positions were advertised and interested individuals sent in applications. The Chairperson of the McHenry County Board reviewed and interviewed the applicants and nine members were selected. These members represent a variety of specialties from architecture to history to archeology. The Committee was given one year from September 1990 to accomplish the goals set before them. The following report answers these challenges.
The Historic Preservation Study Committee is unanimous in its recommendation to the McHenry County Board that a need does exist for a Historic Preservation Commission. This need arises most especially, though not only, from the Chicago Metropolitan sprawl which is expanding at an accelerating rate and has already made incursions into McHenry County. It is McHenry County’s quality of life that accounts in part, for the accelerating immigration.
Since 1979, the McHenry County Board has wisely anticipated and dealt with growth by adopting zoning, subdivision, floodplain and land use programs. These actions are intended to promote the quality of life in McHenry County. It is now prudent that a historic preservation component be added to these programs.
In order to support its overall planning program, encourage economic development, and enhance the cultural resources of the County, McHenry County must preserve its unincorporated historic sites and rural landscapes. There is evidence of public support for a program of incentives and regulations to prevent destruction of the County’s important historic sites and landscapes. Support is evidenced by:
1. Previous statements by the County Board;
2. Municipal ordinances and districts;
3. The Rural Historic Structure survey;
4. Press coverage; and,
5. The large number of buildings that have undergone repairs and renovation.
Historic preservation is an element of the planning for the general welfare of the County. By planning for historic preservation, the County will support its other objectives, namely:
1. Conservation of resources;
2. Providing housing diversity;
3. Maintaining cultural resources;
4. Maintaining and improving the quality of life in the County;
5. Promoting economic development through tourism;
6. Stabilization and improvement of property values; and,
7. Preservation of farmland.
Tourism is a growing component of McHenry County’s economy. The maintenance of an attractive environment will encourage visits to our towns and museums. This environment offers not only historic vistas, but sites and structures that are in themselves interesting and memorable. It will also foster patronage of our businesses for food, gifts, housing and entertainment.
Historic preservation also yields intangible cultural benefits. Among these are:
1. Establishing or maintaining a focal point for the community; providing a sense of identity and civic pride;
2. Maintaining an aesthetically pleasing environment; and,
3. Providing a link with the past and a tool for education.
Development in rural McHenry County is expected to continue. Rural subdivision, the expansion of the municipalities, hold potential for the continued loss of structures and landscapes. In light of the development trends, there is a need for governments to protect these resources through public education, the development of a realistic set of regulations and incentives for the renovation and remodeling of privately held structures, and a plan for guiding development which takes into consideration the cultural and aesthetic resources of the County.
Growth is not to be denigrated; indeed, lack of growth would be a matter of concern. It is rapid, unprecedented growth that creates problems - specifically and especially when that growth is inimical to the existing quality of life. Problems arise from increased traffic, commercial strips, overcrowding, demands on schools, police, and health services, and, not least of all, loss of some of the finest agricultural land in the United States.
Historic preservation cannot solve all of these problems, but it will help create a balanced perspective of what is good for the County. It can help preserve that which is best. A County wide coordinated effort to identify and protect valuable sites and structures is needed before development encroaches upon them.