Students Volunteer to Restore Illinois House

Bill Black, Jr., atop newly erected scaffolding that will enable work crews to lift the porch roof and insert temporary supports, speaking to volunteers.

Credit: Judith Broeker, Heritage Conservation Network

In the small town of Cairo, Ill., this summer Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Adventures in Preservation (formerly known as the Heritage Conservation Network) teamed up with Cairo Vision 20/20 for a two-week "shotgun" house restoration workshop to promote preservation, stimulate the economy and create affordable housing.

Economic deterioration has transformed the once-grand place, notorious for its racial problems in the 1950s and 60s, into a ghost town.

"It's such a depressed area. Parts of it are deserted. We're really trying to do something because [Cairo] is so in need," says Judith Broeker, president and co-founder of Adventures in Preservation, based in Boulder, Colo. "The hope is to set up a program, fix up the houses, and sell it to a family for a really low price. We'll recoup the expenses, and then somebody actually has their own home. And it's quite a wonderful, sturdy home," Broeker says.

An architecture student works on a historic house in Cairo, Ill.

Credit: Judith Broeker, Heritage Conservation Network

During the June workshop, 30 volunteers learned wood-conservation skills, carpentry skills, and tips to maintain their own houses by working on a c. 1900 shotgun-style house at 2910 Sycamore Street.

Broeker's group chose the shotgun for its size. "In Cairo, these houses are the only feasible thing [to restore], because the resources are so small we needed to take on a manageable-sized house."

The volunteers included students from SIUC and other schools, residents, preservationists and experts. Two SIUC students even stayed in the area and devoted the rest of their summer to restoring the house.

Suzanne Germann, funds and easement coordinator for Landmarks Illinois, attended the workshop and assisted in re-hanging the windows and raising the sagging porch. "It's really inspiring to see all these volunteers coming together – someone from New York even came to help," Germann says.

This year's project was under the direction of Bill Black, Jr. of Ray Black & Son, Inc., from Paducah, Ky., and funded by a $5,000 grant from Landmarks Illinois. Materials, services, and labor were all donated.

"[Initially there were] no volunteers, no materials, and no support. Then all of a sudden … people started giving. More students came and everyone pitched in," Broeker says. "But without more support from that vicinity, it's going to be really hard to keep it going.

Funding is incredibly difficult because companies want to sponsor something in their neighborhood, but there are no companies [in Cairo]."

The town of Cairo purchased the house this year for $600. When completed, the house will be used as an office for the Chamber of Commerce with a display including photos and an explanation of the project that restored the house.

"These workshops feed my soul. They are so rewarding. By the end, everyone has bonded. It is and was a totally positive experience, and you overcome all these obstacles that you weren't sure you could," Broeker says.

The dates for next year's workshop are June 12-26. For more information, visit Adventures in Preservation.


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Submitted by Brian at: August 6, 2009
Hooray! =) Every town in this country should be able to create a program like this. We just need some charismatic leadership.