Harvard's Coventry Home on Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list

Status gives leaders hope for homestead restoration

HARVARD – About a year ago Tom Beetstra decided he couldn't watch his former barn deteriorate anymore.

So he took some plywood, wooden beams and shingles to the barn and home at 7704 Route 14 in Harvard and spent a day repairing a gaping hole in the barn roof. Despite his efforts, the barn and the adjacent home, known as the William H. Coventry Home and Barn, remain in dire need of repairs.

“It needs work,” Beetstra said. “It needs restoration. It needs somebody with a plan.”

In what could be the first step toward those repairs, Landmarks Illinois announced Wednesday the historic homestead is on its 2015 Most Endangered Historic Places list.

This is the 20th year the historical preservation group has released the list to call attention to historic places threatened by deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds or inappropriate development. The homestead was one of 10 places named to the list this year.

Built in 1855, the house and its outbuildings are part of the embattled Motorola campus in Harvard, which has sat vacant since 2003. Optima Ventures, the Miami-based company that owns the manufacturing plant and 287 acres it sits on, has been sued by ComEd for more than $545,000 in unpaid electric bills. The property also has a tax lien against it after the owners, who could not be reached for comment, failed to pay $300,000 in property taxes.

The home served as a private residence through the 1990s. Beststra said people with ties to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, once lived there. He and his wife Angie Beetstra lived there from about 1982 to 1992 before Motorola bought the property, he said.

To curtail any more decay, the McHenry County Historical Society has partnered with city and Harvard Economic Development leaders to persuade the company to give the homestead to a group or agency that would care for it, said historical society administrator Kurt Begalka.

“If they're not going to do it, they should give it over to someone who will,” Begalka said.

The placement on the endangered site list doesn't offer any legal protections or certain future, Begalka said. Uncertainties remain with places named to the list in previous years, including the Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake and Camp Algonquin.

But being deemed endangered does mean there will be an architectural survey done to determine the building's exact condition. The tricky part, Begalka said, will be gaining access to the homestead because it's on private property and Optima did not consent to the historical society applying for a spot on the endangered list. He said consent from the owner is not a condition of the designation.

City leaders welcomed the designation, said City Administrator David Nelson, who would like Optima to donate the property.

“Maybe it gets put back into some sort of use,” Nelson said. “I don't know what that means, but it's better than seeing it torn down.”

On top of the architectural review, the designation also sets in motion the process to apply for grants or other designations that could provide money for repairs, Begalka said.

“It's a good start,” Begalka said. “But unless somebody comes forward and does something with it and picks up the ball it's going to be a footnote when it comes crashing down.”

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