Illinois — Landmarks Illinois has announced the 2018 most endangered historic places in Illinois and on the list this year is one of Stephenson County’s most treasured place— the Tabernacle that graces the grounds of Oakdale Nature Preserve.
On April 25, 2018, at a press conference in Springfield, Landmarks Illinois through asking preservationists, community leaders and concerned citizens throughout the state to nominate threatened or endangered historic properties for its annual list, announced its 2018 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.
According to the group, the purpose of the list is to focus attention on sites threatened by deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds, or inappropriate development and to bolster local advocacy efforts and build support for each property’s eventual preservation.
The Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list also draws attention to important policy issues that affect these properties and historic properties throughout the state.
Of the 15 other historic places on the 2018 list, two other Tabernacles in Illinois made the most endangered. One located in Des Plaines, Illinois and another located in Shelbyville.
These tabernacles and meeting halls are associated with a nationally-significant educational and spiritual movement from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These landmarks face an uncertain future resulting from damage, disinvestment and deterioration.
While camp meeting halls and Chautauquas are spread extensively throughout Illinois, they are becoming increasingly rare. The three properties included in the most endangered listing are among the few remaining buildings in the state associated with this movement, each of which is currently under threat, the report states.
“These structures, often called chautauquas or tabernacles, are typically round or multi-sided structures located in parks or forest preserves, well-suited for gatherings or large crowds. They also feature interesting roofing systems that provide an unobstructed view of the preacher or lecturer. Despite significant cost estimates for repair, advocates are committed to ensuring the survival of this unique building type.”
In Stephenson County, the Oakdale Tabernacle faces the threat of demolition due to years of vacancy and deferred maintenance, making it inhabitable.
Historic Significance: The building has served as a community gathering space since 1895. For more than 100 years, it provided a venue for the community to hold events and activities.
The origins of the tabernacle date back to 1895, when the Oakdale Park Camp Meeting Association held its first 10-day gathering on the site. Festivities included Bible study, religious services and outdoor activities for all ages. At one time, 2,000 people took part in these annual camp meetings.
In 1915, the original 1895 tabernacle burned, but was replaced with this eight-sided tabernacle before the 1916 August camp meeting. Eventually, the United Methodist Church took over operation of the meetings, with the last annual gathering taking place in 1967.
In 1971, the Freeport Park District bought the campground, renting out the Tabernacle for community events.
The building was closed in 2012 due to lack of bookings.
Since that time, wildlife has overrun the building and made the structure uninhabitable. Despite threats of demolition, a group of community advocates is pressuring the Freeport Park District to restore it as a low-cost alternative that could be used as a community gathering space.
In 2012 Freeport City Hall made the most endangered list. In 2007 the Germania Hall was on Landmarks Illinois’ most endangered list.