Historians fear Huntley might demolish two downtown buildings

HUNTLEY – With an eye toward refurbishing the downtown, Huntley officials have bought two more properties there, including a two-story residence that once served as a hotel for railway visitors in the early 1900s.

But the recent downtown purchases are causing concern among some local historians, who fear that the village is merely paying lip service to preserving the historic infrastructure that created the village’s country charm.

Village trustees and administrators are about to ramp up planning and engineering on Huntley’s 2010 downtown revitalization plan, which includes adding development and improving building facades and streets throughout the Huntley square.

“Demolition is something the village is good at, and restoration is something I have never seen them do,” said local historian Tom Conley, who is a fifth-generation Huntley resident. “I see no support for historical preservation from this village.”

The Huntley Historic Preservation Commission expressed similar concerns last year after members heard rumors that the village wanted to tear down the former Sawyer-Kelley Mill along Main Street for additional downtown parking.

The village purchased the former mill, 11801 Main St., which was built in the 1890s and belonged to two influential Huntley businessmen, W.G. Sawyer and John Kelley.

Conley, a former commission member, said the village hasn’t been clear with its intentions behind the downtown purchases, including the two properties the Village Board authorized buying earlier this month.

The two-story former hotel is on the southeast corner of the downtown, between the railroad tracks and Route 47. The Siegrist family operated the property since the 1890s as a hotel for visitors coming into town via the railroad, Conley said.

He said the property represents one of the first hotels to open in Huntley, which was founded in the 1850s.

The single-family home along First Street that the village also purchased has less historical significance, Conley said. But the property, located behind the old Huntley Village Hall, still represents a typical 19th-century home in the area, he said.

The village bought the two properties for $258,000 total.

Village Manager Dave Johnson admitted that officials haven’t been entirely clear with their intentions but said that’s because officials are just beginning to discuss how the properties fit into the downtown revitalization.

He said the Village Board has identified the properties as key components to the makeover but didn’t say whether the village would demolish or restore them.

“There has been nothing finalized in terms of the final plan. ... Our intention is to sit down with stakeholders and understand their concerns,” Johnson said. “We want to sit down with them and talk to them about the history, the future and tying it together.”

Johnson already has started that process, sitting down with some preservation commission members for a closed-door meeting Thursday. He said he expects discussion on the downtown planning and decision-making on the historic properties to intensify by the fall.

Likewise, commission member Jake Marino said his fellow commissioners and local historians will continue to voice their growing concerns about historical preservation in Huntley.

“It concerns me a lot,” Marino said. “I don’t want to see a town pockmarked with empty lots or new buildings, mixed with old-looking buildings.”

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