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Losing a piece of history

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Gail Reed is retiring this month from her position as the historic district coordinator in Shelbyville. As one of only a handful in her position across the state, Reed has kept a watchful eye on Shelbyville’s most important landmarks, some known and others unknown. She sat down with The Sentinel-News and shared some of her favorite success stories and some that she hopes can be successes in the future.

By Todd Martin

Shelbyville Historic District Coordinator Gail Reed will step away from her post at the end of the month. Since taking over in Shelbyville in April of 2000, Reed has watched several historic buildings be remade and brought back from near devastation and others torn down.

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She has worked with homes from the 1810s to Civil War-era houses and even the old Coca-Cola building, which actually resides in the Renaissance District, not the Historic District. Since opening the Shelbyville Welcome/Heritage Center she has worked with the museum, helping volunteers catalog and display local artifacts, and she has even given tours.

Reed said one person with whom she has worked for years reminded her that even though she’s leaving to go back to her hometown of Herrin, Ill., she loves Shelbyville.

“You know what, they were right, I do love Shelbyville,” she said. “I’ve loved it enough to learn the history of the town and the buildings because I love the community. There are so many unsung heroes here. People that do so much work behind the scenes, not for the notoriety or the compliments, but because they love Shelbyville and want to see it preserved.”

There is no historic district coordinator or anything similar in Herrin, and Reed said her hometown has called her in the past asking for advice on historic buildings, but she’s not sure she’s ready to take on another town.

“Sometimes I think I’ll go back and raise hell,” she said laughing. “But other times I think I’ll just go back and watch, see what happens. I don’t know, it depends on my mood and the day.”

Driving through the Historic District with Reed is like listening to a radio tour of the history of Shelbyville. She points out places of interest and the dates of homes and buildings with a passing fancy.

She can show you where the district has helped property owners secure grants to maintain buildings, and she can rattle off stories on each property, including who built them and how they have reached their current state of repair.

And now, before she heads out of town, Reed sat down with The Sentinel-Newsand discussed a few of her favorite restoration stories in Shelbyville…and a few that she hopes won’t be forgotten.

627 Main Street

The Shelbyville Welcome/Heritage Center was a labor of love for Reed, who actually missed a good part of it.

“When we were renovating it, my leg was broken, so it was hard for me to get in and really get around,” she said.

The Italianate-style Presbyterian Manse, which was built in 1872, was sold by the church in the 1920s but later repurchased with hopes of using it for church activities.

“It just never materialized for them,” she said. “It didn’t have heat or air conditioning for years, and there was some water damage. It was in pretty bad shape. They sold it to the city for like a dollar or something like that.”

Reed secured three grants for the building, including one from Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

“They called to ask if he could come here to award a bunch of grants and asked that I call local people to attend,” she said. “Well I did, and the Stratton Center was just packed, and he was awarding all kinds of grants. He kept going and going, and then, the very last one he mentioned was this Renaissance Grant. I was so relieved. That was the big one that got this building going.”

1184 Main Street

“That was just the perfect success story,” Reed said. “Everything just fell together.”

Reed said the current owners, Phil and Chris Hayes, just happened to stop and ask her about homes in the county. She recommended this one and didn’t think much else of it.

“Next thing I know, they’re in here [at the Historic Commission] asking me questions about the house they just bought.

“It was just total luck that they happed to drive up and talk to me.”

The home, built in 1905, is a Colonial Revival, and Reed said it’s just beautiful now. “It’s an absolute show place,” she said.

1028 Main Street

Built by Malqoire Louis Dubourg in the 1890s, this house stands out because of its unique recent paint job and its turret on the east side of the front of the house.

“That house was so bad, it was just nauseating to walk in,” Reed said. “Now it’s beautiful. I just love the colors, and the turret makes it very interesting to look at. And it has quite a history.”

Dubourg, who also operated a florist and grocery in town, was one of Shelbyville’s first city council members.

1015 Main Street

This home, where Reed resides, was remodeled by the Preservation Foundation and is another favorite.

“It was a lot of fun because Betty Matthews and I got to do a lot of research on it,” she said.

The Queen Anne/Victorian-style home was built in the early 1890s, and the Nichols family owned it until the 1970s.

“There was a fire inside at one time. In fact there are still burn holes in the floor,” she sad. “When we first started on it, it was cut into apartments, and we spent a lot of time trying to get it straightened out.”

One she feels better abount

The old log home at 1025 Main Street, Reed said is in good hands now as Red Chocolate Maggies.

“That building has been one of my biggest concerns for a long time,” she said. “But I feel much better about it now because I think they have rescued it with work inside and out. It’s a very important building.”

Built in the early 1800s, this 2-story log cabin was one of the city’s first schools. The back log cabin was added on in the 1980s and is still a part of the building.

Ones not to forget

  • Situated on the corner of 8th and Main streets, directly across 8th from Blue Gables, is a pre-Civil War-era house that is in great disrepair. “I’ve seen early pictures of it, and it had a wrought-iron fence in the front that’s gone now,” Reed said. “A lot of stores have been in that building.” And in the 1860s, a Shelbyville state legislator lived there.
  • Another home on the 1400 block, the Wheeler House, was scheduled to be torn down at one point. “A fire in the house had left it basically a shell,” she said. “Everybody that’s ever talked to me about the property [which recently went up for sale] wanted to tear it down. It was probably the first farmhouse here. It was one of the original Main Street houses.”