In one of the first public events at the Illinois Coal Museum at Gillespie, federal and state politicians were invited to an opportunity to tour the developing museum in downtown Gillespie and congregate over a provided lunch on Friday.
Located in the 100 block of South Macoupin in Gillespie’s business district, the Illinois Coal Museum at Gillespie found its home after the building was donated to the city by United Community Bank in December 2014. Originally, the city acquired the building with the intent of moving city offices to the upper floor and allowing the lower floor to be used as exhibit space for the museum. However, utilizing the upper floor will require an installation of an elevator. In the meantime, the city has poured tens of thousands of dollars into the building for roof repairs and asbestos and mold abatement.
“Walk through the museum often,” Gillespie Mayor John Hicks told the guests during lunch. “There’s always something new. They are always changing something and adding something. Thank you all for coming.”
The building has been a work in progress for 20 months now with museum members donating thousands of hours in volunteer time to renovate the space and create exhibits inside the museum. The interior of the building features vintage flooring, an abstract ceiling and bright lighting with many exhibits and artifacts on display dating back more than 100 years.
Dignitaries and guests alike enjoyed the opportunity to tour the museum on Friday, August 25, and talk to the museum members who are fledging the revitalization effort. Among the guests were U.S. Congressman Rodney Davis, Illinois Senator Andy Manar, Illinois Representative Avery Bourne, Illinois Senator Sam McCann, Macoupin County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Polo, Macoupin County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Mathis, Superintendent of CUSD 7 Schools Joseph Tieman, CUSD 7 School Board Vice President Jennifer Alepra, City of Gillespie Mayor John Hicks, Gillespie Treasurer Dan Fisher and Gillespie Alderman Jim Alderson.
Organizer of the Museum Dave Tucker thanked everyone for attending and said there’s a lot of work ahead at the museum while thanking Mayor Hicks and the city for the investment in building repairs.
Coal mining is why people immigrated to central Illinois
“Coal mining is why people immigrated to central Illinois,” U.S. Representative Rodney Davis told the crowd before thanking everyone in the audience who was a miner. “I grew up with many friends whose families were affected when the Peabody Mine #10 shut down and I know the impact coal mining has on the rich history of central and southwestern Illinois.”
Senator Manar congratulated everyone who has brought the museum to its current state and extended an offer to help it go farther, “I’m excited to lend any support I can to this museum. It’s not just good for Gillespie, it’s good for the whole county and our whole area. It’s there’s anything that is important to our heritage, it’s coal mining.”
“This is a big deal for me,” Senator McCann echoed. “Coal mining is in our blood and in our veins. I want coal mining to make a comeback that we all think it should make.”
One of the members of the Route 66 caucus in Springfield, Representative Avery Bourne acknowledged the effort as a tourist attraction saying the museum “is one way to get people here, driving our roads, spending money here while bringing awareness to our history.”
The Illinois Coal Museum at Gillespie would appreciate any donations. Monetary donations can be made to Illinois Coal Museum at Gillespie and mailed to 121 South Macoupin, Gillespie, IL 62033. Other donations can include artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, coal miner biographies, pedestals, display cases, tables, chairs, computers, monitors, scanners, cameras, frames and similar items. Volunteers are also being accepted to help staff the museum.
“The Illinois Coal Museum at Gillespie has the potential to be the finest museum on Route 66 and play a major role in the reinvigoration of a small town,” the museum writes on their Facebook page.