State Senator Andy Manar and State Representative Avery Bourne, in communications released on November 18th, announced that the City of Gillespie will receive a $33,800 grant to assist with improvements to the Illinois Coal Museum located in the downtown district. The Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants Program, administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), is specifically used for museums operated by local government or located on municipally-owned land. Over 40 grants were announced in this cycle.
Coal mining was the primary industry of Gillespie, bringing many European immigrants to the area to work. Though today the mines are closed, in their heyday they were considered some of the nation’s largest. The museum has quicky become a must-see stop for Route 66 tourists and mining industry enthusiasts in the four years since it has opened. Gillespie is located on the 1926-1930 alignment of Route 66.
Gillespie Alderman Dave Tucker, who also is Chairman of the museum’s Board of Directors and the curator of the facility, announced the funds will be used for the facade of the building, including an awning and artwork. “It matches into our streetscape plan, which gives a chance to do that when we wouldn’t have been able to before”, explained Tucker. The facade work is for the whole front of the building (that is actually three buildings), which will eventually include a pop-up shop and business incubator. The museum has also been working on interior improvements this year including the installation of new carpeting, according to Alderman Tucker.
The “Grow Gillespie” plan was announced in a series of public meetings in early 2019, and features initiatives to improve downtown aesthetics, encourage entrepreneurship, retain and grow existing businesses and encouraging new businesses to open downtown. The Illinois Coal Museum was identified early on as an integral part of the streetscape plan.
Alderman Tucker is also optimistic about plans for a special May 1, 2021 street event for the re-opening of the tourism season. At that time, an historic marker will be unveiled at the site of the Colonial Theatre, which operated as a movie theater in the city in the 1920s through the end of WW2. Details on the May 1st event are to be announced.