Paying for preservation

Foundation opens $10,000 historic preservation fund

Springfield’s aging homes and office buildings have another pillar of support, as the Sangamon County Community Foundation announced the creation of a new historic preservation fund on May 21.

The fund aims to provide financial assistance to individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations looking to preserve historic buildings (more than 50 years old) within city limits. The Sangamon County Community Foundation Historic Preservation Fund will target primarily buildings in the downtown area and adjacent neighborhoods.

Currently, the fund contains $10,000, and it will probably be another year before it begins bestowing grants. However, the Community Foundation chose to publicize the fund now in hopes of generating support for historic preservation downtown, says executive director John Stremsterfer. Since the fund’s current totals would not be enough to complete the average restoration project, the foundation is hoping to generate additional donations.

“We really hope that this fund will be a charitable destination for people who want to give to the issue of historic preservation in Springfield,” Stremsterfer says.

The Sangamon County Community Foundation is a public charity that provides service to other local charities and philanthropists. The Community Foundation presides over various donor-generated funds, which are matched with a relevant charity group. The organization currently has more than 60 individual funds that sponsor social, economic and humanitarian causes in Springfield and the surrounding area.

The fund was started by a $300 charitable gift from Paul O’Shea, planning and design coordinator for the City of Springfield, as well as the new chair of the Historic Preservation Fund. Two years ago, O’Shea, an architect, was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the rededication of the Old State Capitol when he decided to invest the remaining $300 from the project into a Community Foundation fund. With several donations from groups like the Heritage Foundation, that initial investment has exceeded $10,000.

“It’s something that needed to happen,” O’Shea says. “It provides an opportunity that wasn’t there before. We can place these funds into the foundation and use them for preservation.”

Individuals and businesses will be encouraged to apply for the grants, provided they are willing to make the building available to the public. Homes, for example, could open themselves up to monthly tours, Stremsterfer says. In accordance with the rules of the Community Foundation, all property involved must have historic renovation and preservation that’s shared with the community.

“We will be making sure that people are intending a certain level of restoration and sharing,” he explains. “Otherwise, we’re giving people money to fix their bathtubs.”

The fund combines historic preservation with economic development, O’Shea says.

“The historic part brings great architecture and buildings into today’s economy,” he says, adding that the project has an environmentally friendly side as well. “When you can preserve the buildings by keeping them and not tearing them down, that’s as sustainable as you can get.”

The fund received a $5,000 donation from the Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit group that encourages and facilitates the development of vacant or underused downtown properties.

Heritage Foundation chair Carolyn Oxtoby says her group will work with the newly-created fund to continue their efforts at downtown revitalization.

“I think of historic preservation as a means to economic development, especially in the downtown area,” Oxtoby says. “It doesn’t do economic development anything if the buildings are continuing to disintegrate and become a parking lot. This fund is a combination of economic development and historic preservation.”

Contact Diane Ivey at

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