IHPA director looks over the Vandalia Statehouse

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

While assessing the condition of the Vandalia Statehouse last week, the director of the state agency that oversees the building offered reminders of what it means to Vandalia and Illinois.

Amy Martin made her first visit to the Statehouse as the director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency last  Thursday as part of her tour to historic sites around the state.
It wasn’t her first visit to Vandalia, as she came here several years ago while serving as the director of Illinois Main Street. But it was the first time she became really familiar with the Statehouse.
“We’re going around the state, getting familiar with the (historic) sites that we operate, doing an assessment of how the sites are doing,” Martin said during her visit with Statehouse Site Superintendent Steve Riddle.
“We do an assessment of the outside and the inside, to be sure that we are actively keeping the sites up the best we can.
“Here, Steve has pointed out the windows, which are seeing some normal wear, and that he has recently lost a tree on the grounds,” she said.
“Also, we like to visit with the staff. It’s a good opportunity to visit with staff members,” Martin said, noting that the only other opportunity to do so is when site supervisors gather in Springfield twice a year.
“It’s important to me, as the director, to keep those lines of communication open, so we can continue to do the best job possible of presenting our historic sites to the public,” she said.
Martin brought with her staff members Alyson Grady, historic sites division manager, and Christopher Wells, the agency’s communications manager.
Those staff members participate in agency-wide projects, and one of the upcoming projects is the completion of new marketing materials for the IHPA.
Those materials include new marketing pieces for each of the historic sites, as well as “walk cards,” promotional brochures on various sites that are designed to lure tourists from one site to another.
Looking over the Statehouse, one of the things that stood out to Martin is its appearance.
“The great thing about this site is what a great photo opportunity it offers,” she said. “It doesn’t take a bad picture.
“I can see where there are a lot of folks who come here for photos, including brides and grooms who come here for wedding photos,” Martin said. “It’s such a beautiful backdrop.”
In addition to maintaining the historic sites, Martin said, she has goals for the various sites. In Vandalia, it’s “to establish a foundation, or a friends group, that would allow us to get more community involvement.
“Unfortunately, our staffing size is kind of low, so without the support of communities, we don’t have a lot to offer,” she said.
“A foundation is not just about raising money; it’s not,” Martin said. “It’s about awareness of the site, helping us market it and helping us with various programs here.
“If you have more community involvement, we might be able to do more interpretations on a larger scale, get people dressed in period clothing to help with those interpretations.
“Tourism is big industry in Illinois, and sites like the Vandalia Statehouse play a big role in our overall tourism efforts.
“Tourism is economic development, not only for the state, but for the individual towns where we have these sites. When people come here to visit the Statehouse, they likely will patronize a number of local businesses,” Martin said.
But generating tourism dollars is not the only priority for IHPA. Just as important is what the sites, and the staff members at those sites, can tell tourists.
“One of the great things we have to offer at sites such as this is history. We can tell tourists, school children and others about the roles that these sites played in state’s early days and in the lives of people such as Abraham Lincoln,” Martin said.