KANE COUNTY HISTORY: Experience High-Tech History at April 21 'Open Elgin' Event

KANE COUNTY HISTORY: Experience High-Tech History at April 21 ‘Open Elgin’ Event

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s post was submitted by Kim Bauer, historic preservation intern for the city of Elgin, IL, and with the help of Elizabeth Marston, director of the Elgin History Museum.

If you want to see the future of history, check out what’s going on in Elgin these days.

For starters, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 21, the public will have a chance to see 35 buildings throughout Elgin’s downtown at the mind-blowing, second annual Open Elgin.

Many of these buildings remain largely closed to the public throughout the year, so be sure to take the opportunity to see Elgin buildings like never before.

Open Elgin is a great way to be able to peer into the histories of Elgin’s past through buildings like the Professional Building, the Burritt Building, the U-46 Planetarium & Observatory and more!

But if you’re anything like us, as you walk through the historic interiors, it makes you think about all the other building histories scattered throughout the rest of downtown and beyond.

If you’re unable to make Open Elgin on April 21, or are interested in both commercial and residential buildings throughout the rest of the year, visit www.historicelgin.com

Award-Winning, Interactive Website

Historic Elgin is an easy-to-use website that has pins placed on a map for a number of its historic commercial buildings and almost 500 of the residential homes that are plaqued as part of the city of Elgin’s Building Plaque program. Each pin has photos, short histories and audio files for anyone with an internet connection to explore.

Elgin is unique for a number of reasons, one of which is that it has five nationally recognized historic districts, a feat for a city with a population of roughly 110,000. With Historic Elgin’s map, you are able to see within which historic district a particular home or building is located.

The roots of Historic Elgin really started in 2009 when the City of Elgin Heritage Commission undertook the task of highlighting some of the city’s major landmarks that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. A number of Heritage Commission members put together a cell phone walking tour of significant sites in Elgin.

As many might remember, the cell-phone tour consisted of signage installed at 29 sites throughout Elgin. Each sign provided a short description of the site, and included a phone number for passers-by to call and hear a short, recorded vignette including interesting details about the site/ building.

The cell phone tour was initially successful, but in recent years, the program did not see enough use to justify maintaining, and paying for, the cell phone tour service.

High-Tech History

As the Heritage Commission wanted to highlight more sites, and digital capabilities of cell phones progressed so rapidly, the Heritage Commission looked for a better solution to publicize Elgin’s significant sites and buildings. The fastest and most affordable solution was to create a web page accessible by smartphone or home computer.

With the help of Elgin Historic District homeowner Ben Eubank, a website template was created that now allows city staff to easily add unique information and images about Elgin’s historic properties in a cost effective and user-friendly way and became the Historic Elgin website we know today.

For its efforts, the Elgin Heritage Commission won two awards in 2017 for historicelgin.com.

The first was from the Illinois Association for Historic Preservation Commissions, winning their Public Outreach and Education Award. The second was a national award from the National Alliance for Preservation Commissions, winning their Best Practices in Technology Award.

The Heritage Commission was honored for such recognition but is more excited for the website’s ability to help inform Elgin’s residents about its rich architectural and cultural heritage. In fact, every May, the city of Elgin plans an entire month worth of preservation related events for all to enjoy.

The Elgin History Museum is a proud member of the Enhancing Elgin committee for Open Elgin for a second year in a row.

About the Elgin History Museum

The Elgin History Museum is housed in an 1856 landmark building known as Old Main that was once part of the Elgin Academy campus. The museum has a staff that helps welcome visitors to the museum, educates the public about Elgin history and assists with research inquiries.

Read The Kane County History Series!