Community / News / November 20, 2019

Sandburg house faces financial challenges

A bust of poet Carl Sandburg stands in the backyard of the Carl Sandburg Visitor Center. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)

Since its first official opening in 1974, the Carl Sandburg Historic Site has been telling the story of beloved American poet Carl Sandburg. Now, however, the site is coming up against the financial pressures.

The Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg was born on January 6, 1878, in Galesburg. He attended Lombard College and it was there that he began writing and publishing his first poems and prose. Following his death in 1967, his ashes were buried at his birthplace.

The site includes Sandburg’s childhood home: a three-room workingsman cottage and a garden where visitors can walk across the Quotation Walk of stones inscribed with famous quotes from the poet. They can also view the Remembrance Rock where the ashes of both Sandburg and his wife are buried.

Like many historic sites, it did not have a state budget due to the state’s own financial troubles. Last year, it was forced to close but then was reorganized under the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). It reopened in July and was able to hire a permanent, full-time employee.

But, despite these changes, the site has continued to face problems.

“It’s always a challenge to find resources,” said Martha Downey, Site Superintendent of both the Carl Sandburg Historic Site and the Bishop Hill Historic Site.

Downey said that both sites she manages now have short-term budgets and have been able to make repairs and replace old equipment. Still, the future of the Sandburg site is not set in stone.

“Some years are better than others,” Downey said. “Some budgets are better than others.”

The surrounding community is doing their part to help make sure the site stays open. The Carl Sandburg Historic Association (CSHA) has been supporting the site since 1970 as a 501(c)(3) organization. The association provides money for repairs and has written grants.

“The state has failed miserably in their promise,” said Pat Kane, president of CSHA. “The budgets we get have been piecemeal.”

However, Kane has been impressed with the IDNR, especially with Downey.

“Downey has done a remarkable job in the face of all the challenges,” Kane said.

But Kane still thinks the state has been dragging its feet. According to her, it took a year to choose new employees for the site, and that was during the period in which the site was closed.

Although the site reopened in July, Downey feels that the community has not been made aware of it. The site did have a press release to announce it’s reopening, but it has struggled to garner attention.

“You go off the radar when you’re closed,” Downey said.

Kane, working with the CSHA, has recently been meeting with legislators to negotiate a better budget. But the future for the site still remains unclear.

Downey believes that it is important for the younger generation and people of all ages to hear Sandburg’s story.

“It tells Illinois’ history and inspires people, since Carl Sandburg was a son of immigrants,” she said. “If Carl Sandburg can do it, so can I.”

Kane agrees with the importance of maintaining site and avoiding a permanent closure.

“It would be gone forever,” she said. “We would lose such an important piece of history.”

Geneva Gage

Tags:  Carl Sandburg Galesburg sandburg house

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