Aurora one step closer to Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum rehab

The Grand Army of Republic Hall after major exterior renovations in Downtown Aurora on Sep. 27, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
The Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Aurora. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media

AURORA – After being shuttered for years, a $750,000 grant from the state will make way for downtown’s Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum to once again open to the public.

The sizable Illinois Public Museum Capital grant, from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, will allow the city to finally complete the interior restoration of the GAR Memorial Museum, Community Services Chief Dan Barreiro told aldermen Tuesday. The museum is slated to be open to the public in 2016.

The $750,000 grant was first announced by the state in June. City Council now has to vote to accept the grant before work can begin.

The state grant requires no matching funds from the city, Aurora grant writer John Russell said Tuesday night. Aurora has also applied for two other grants to help fund creative exhibits and displays, he said.

The city has also budgeted $275,000 in city funds and $46,000 from a Kane county grant in 2014-15 for the GAR project, according to a city memo.

The 136-year-old GAR Memorial Museum, at 23 E. Downer Place in downtown Aurora, was built as a tribute to and a gathering place for veterans of the Civil War. The building has been closed since the 1990s because of structural safety concerns.

Since that time, the city, with the assistance of grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Kane County, and Partners in Preservation, has spent about $2.75 million on stabilization of the foundation and restoring the exterior of the building.

The grant will cover restoration work in the Angel Room, the main display area of the museum; installation of some artifact exhibits; renovations of the Stair Tower; opening of small group meeting/orientation room; cabinetry restoration; woodwork and floor finishing; and other upgrades.

Rena Church, director of the Aurora Public Art Commission, is overseeing the GAR restoration project. In June, Church said she expected work to begin this fall.

Mayor Tom Weisner said Tuesday night that the GAR Hall is arguably the most historic building in the city.

“It’s been a long journey but I think we’re very close to having it open and functional,” he said.

GAR Memorial Post 20 opened on July 4, 1878, with its construction funded entirely by donations from Aurora residents. The GAR Hall was built on land given to the city by one of Aurora’s earliest settlers, Joseph Stolp.

Aurora’s GAR Memorial Museum is one of the few GAR-specific buildings left standing in the nation. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and is part of the downtown Stolp Island Historic District, which was added to the National Register in 1986.

Prior to his hiring in 2013, Russell served as longtime managing editor of the Beacon-News.

Aldermen will likely vote to accept the state grant at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 44 E. Downer Place.

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