(Host) At a time when state welcome centers are closing, the town of Brandon will soon open a new one – the Stephen A. Douglas Birthplace Community Center.
Townspeople have spent over two years restoring the historic home of Abraham Lincoln’s famous political rival.
As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, it will be used primarily as a visitors’ center and museum.
(Keck) Janet Mondlak walks through the front parlor of the 200-year-old house and shows off the ornate ceilings, diamond paned windows, curved walls and fireplaces.
(Mondlak) "I love the history that you feel in here. When you walk into the rooms, there’s no doubt that you’re walking into an old space. And that just feels really good."
(Keck) Mondlak, Executive Director of the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce, has headed up the restoration project.
(Mondlak) "We tried to keep in place everything old that we could. What we couldn’t, we made new, for example, the gas insert. We blew insulation into the whole building. We want to run it as energy efficiently as possible. We want to be able to sustain it and keep it open and in this day and age with closing public buildings, we’re proud to be able to open a public building."
(Keck) The first phase of the project – a public restroom and visitor’s center – will open before the Fourth of July- when Brandon holds its popular Independence Day parade. Mondlak says the rest of the historic home will be turned into an office and museum that will open later this summer.
(Mondlak) "Now we’re entering into the museum space. This is the original part of the house – the original part of the house that Stephen Douglas and his family would have lived in back in the early part of the 1800s.
(Keck) Stephen Douglas was born in Brandon in 1813 and spent his early years training to be a carpenter. At the age of 20 he moved to Illinois where he took up the law and became an influential Congressman. Douglas is best known for a series of debates with Abraham Lincoln on slavery. Those 1858 debates brought Lincoln, a relatively unknown politician, into national prominence. Janet Mondlak says part of the Brandon museum will highlight what was going on locally at that time.
(Mondlak) "This other parlor room will be really focusing on one theme – the abolitionism movement. This town was a hotbed of abolitionism in the 1830s and 1840s. It became part of national fervor."
(Keck) Mondlak says renovations have cost about $375,000 – most of which has come from state grants and private donations. It’s a great investment she says. In a town like Brandon, that has so many beautiful, historic homes and buildings, it’s nice to have one that will always be open to the public.
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Brandon.