Historic Preservation Commission History
Historical Commission Begins
During the Village of Lombard’s 1969 Centennial celebration community interest pushed for ways to save local history in a tangible way. A group of interested citizens encouraged formation of a Historical Commission to explore and implement ways to identify a museum site and build local history archives. The Village of Lombard established the Lombard Historical Commission (LHC) as an arm of the village government with an ordnance to outline financial and preservation responsibilities.
After the Centennial, it was felt that a historical society was needed to oversee the artifacts donated during the celebration. The Lombard Historical Society (LHS) was launched in April of 1970 with 175 charter members.
Victorian Cottage Museum
The first task of the joint LHC and LHS was to find and purchase a suitable site for a local history museum. LHC and LHS members felt a 1870s-1880s time period and a modest house would illustrate Lombard’s growth from the 1869 pioneer settlement of Babcock’s Grove into a middle class town. The Village of Lombard purchased a centrally located house at 23 West Maple Street, which was originally owned by the Newell Matson family. The task was to restore the house to illustrate a Victorian middle class house typical of Lombard’s beginnings. After nine months of work by the LHS and LHC team, LHS President, Patricia Wallace, and LHC Chairman, Otis Butler, joined Village President Howell Holloman to cut the ribbon and open the Victorian Cottage Museum in Oct 1972. The Historical Society was to operate and manage the all-volunteer museum operation.
U.S. Bicentennial Builds Interest
The United States Bicentennial gave great push to local history in 1976. Sheldon Peck’s portrait art was shown in a national touring exhibit. Funds became available to hire a museum director, which allowed more days open and new local history programs. Historical Society membership increased and Footsteps on the Tall Grass Prairie was published in 1977.
Joint LHC and LHS Cooperation
The Village of Lombard appoints LHC members and approves by-laws to guide museum financial management and site preservation. Both a joint LHC & LHS finance team and a joint LHC and LHS personnel team was established to manage museum needs. Various LHC and LHS teams plan and implement projects jointly to improve museum sites. Early joint projects included moving a coach house, re-siding the museum, modification of the coach house, and saving Col. Plum’s garden workshop. Museum accreditation review processes were completed for Victorian Cottage.
Historic Site Recognition
LHC did a community wide historic site assessment to identify sites LHC and LHS needed to preserve. Both LHS and LHC recognize suitable historic sites and buildings. LHS recognition is an honorary recognition of sites, people and architecture that is important to Lombard history. More than 30 historic homes, Lilacia Park, Maple Street Chapel and sites in Lombard have LHS wooden recognition plaques.
Landmark sites require the consent of their owner and formal application to the LHC. Landmark recognition also requires Village board approval and provides legal status. This can give access to state and federal tax incentives and restoration aid.
Commission members helped both Maple Street Chapel and DuPage Theatre teams to apply for and receive National Registry of Historic Sites acceptance. While the DuPage Theatre no longer remains, former LHC Chair, Gerri Watts, presented a National Registry plaque to Maple Street Chapel.
The 60 year old Dairy Queen sign is one of only a few remaining “original” Dairy Queen signs. The Sheldon Peck Homestead is a landmark as the pioneer home of a nationally-famous American portrait artist.
Sheldon Peck Homestead
LHC and LHS joined the Village of Lombard to save pioneer home of artist and abolitionist, Sheldon Peck, located at 355 East Parkside Avenue. Sheldon Peck’s great-grandson, Allen Mertz, worked with Village President William J. Mueller, the LHC, and the LHS to encourage its purchase. Village of Lombard trustees did approve purchase of the land. Allen Mertz donated his historic house to the LHS in 1996.
A joint LHC and LHS team completed a three year house restoration. At an August 1999 Dedication Day, LHC Chair Patricia Poskocil, LHS President Gary Bird, Village President Mueller and Museum Director Joel Van Haaften opened Sheldon Peck Homestead as a pioneer museum. Later, the Lombard Garden Club added prairie plants and informative exterior signs to the site.
Main Street Cemetery Restoration
From 2008 through 2010, a joint LHC, LHS, Village of Lombard, Lombard Park District, and Lombard Garden club team identified and implemented restoration of the Main Street Cemetery and its adjacent park. The team researched the site, removed trees, replaced fences, funded gravestone repair, provided signs, and planted 3,000 daffodils around the 1851 cemetery. A special rededication day was led by Chair Tom Fetters.
Historic Sites Today
The Victorian Cottage museum is open three days a week and research archives are open two days a week or by special appointment. Extensive local history collections, house records, business histories, and community organization files are available for research. LHS holds a candlelight Victorian holiday event, Victorian teas and birthday parties, varied quarterly exhibits, and joint activities with Lilacia Park during Lilac time.
Sheldon Peck Homestead museum is open three days per week with an art gallery of Peck portraits, and holds many pioneer activities, provides anti-slavery programs, Civil War encampments, and junior historian activities. Both museums support appropriate school, scout, and youth group programs.
Lombard Cemetery has Memorial and Veteran’s Days activities and cemetery programs and tours.
Many programs and activities at the Victorian Cottage, Sheldon Peck Homestead, and Lombard Cemetery, bring more than 7,500 people to attend Lombard’s LHS activities each year.
Future Commission Efforts
In 2016 the Lombard Historical Commission changed their name to the Lombard Historic Preservation Commission.
Chair Rita Schneider continues to work with LHS President Lesle Sulla to support major local history projects. LHS Museum Director Natalie Gacek, museum staff and community volunteers participate in community-wide events such as Prairie Days, Chamber of Commerce Expo, Town Center, and Lilac Time events. LHS Membership continues to increase.
The Commission and LHS now are making application to list the Sheldon Peck Homestead on both the National Register of Historic Places and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Additional possible landmark sites are also under consideration.