Statehouse closing at end of day on Sunday

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Mayor working with IHPA to find funds to reopen old capitol

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

One of the biggest local events during the holiday season is the Christmas Open House at the Vandalia Statehouse. Each year, several hundred people enjoy the old state capitol bathed in candlelight, period music and holiday refreshments.

But, this December, both local residents and those who come from miles away, won’t be able to enjoy the holiday event.

The Christmas Open House won’t be held on Dec. 14 as planned, because the Vandalia Statehouse will be closed as of Monday.

The closure of Illinois’ historic sites, and state parks, was among the budget cuts implemented by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The state legislature approved supplemental funding to keep the sites and state parks open, but the governor vetoed that plan.

And last week, the governor used his veto power to keep many of the historic sites and parks closed.

Several state parks will remain open, but Ramsey Lake State Park and Stephen A. Forbes State Park in Kinmundy are not among those.

Several state historic sites also will remain open, including the Abraham Lincoln sites in Springfield, thanks to funds provided by the state’s Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

And Dave Blanchette, state spokesman, said on Monday that the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington and the Bryant Cottage Site in Bement would also remain open.

The Davis Mansion, Blanchette said, will remain open because of funds provided by a local support group, and the Bryant site is staying open due to a “community commitment for volunteerism.”

But the Statehouse will be shuttered indefinitely after its doors our closed to visitors at the end of the day on Sunday.

Blanchette said the governor’s veto last week means “there is no hope of funds being available.”

As part of the closure, “The Christmas Open House is off, and it appears that the Lincoln’s Birthday celebration (on Feb. 12) is also off, although that’s not definite,” he said.

Illinois Historic Preservation Agency officials have been talking with community leaders and local support groups in trying to come up with ways to keep historic sites open.

The agency was successful with the Bloomington and Bement sites, and they continue to talk with officials in other communities that have historic sites, including Vandalia.

Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman said on Tuesday that he had been talking with IHPA Director Jan Grimes as late as Monday.

Gottman said the city is “working with a couple of local funding sources” was it tries to get the Statehouse reopened sometime in the near future.

“We’re working on a plan to fund (the Statehouse) until the end of the state’s current fiscal year (June 30),” he said.

“We’re hoping that we can get something worked out,” Gottman said.

“We hate to see the Statehouse closed at any time, because of the number of tourists that come into our community each year and spend money in Vandalia during their visits,” he said.

“It’s particularly bad to have the Statehouse closed in 2009, when our state and our nation are celebrating the 200th birthday of Lincoln, who is one of the most famous people in the history of the world,” Gottman said.

The IHPA cuts have included a reduction in staff, with only site superintendents being kept on board to take care of such things as maintenance.

Blanchette said earlier that Statehouse Superintendent Mary Cole and other supervisors would be working with agency officials on such things as Web site upgrades and programs that will enhance site visitors’ experiences when the facilities are reopened.