Elgin’s Historic D.C. Cook Publishing Building Faces Demolition — Public Hearing Set For Sept. 8

Elgin’s Historic D.C. Cook Publishing Building Faces Demolition — Public Hearing Set For Sept. 8

  • Editor’s Note: This article is written by Elgin History Museum Curator Beth Nawara.

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 the Elgin Heritage Commission will hold a public hearing to discuss granting landmark status to the D.C. Cook Administrative Building on Grove Avenue in Elgin.

The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m.Tuesday at the Heritage Ballroom at the Centre of Elgin, 7 p.m.

According to articles in the Daily Herald, owners want to demolish the vacant, 118-year-old building north of downtown Elgin, and residents are seeking landmark status to prevent the demolition and encourage adaptive reuse of this historic structure.

Why is this building so important to Elgin?

David C. Cook Publishing in Elgin was the largest interdenominational religious publishing house in the United States.

The company grew from Cook’s love of teaching Sunday school. For about 10 years, before he started the publishing company, he would teach two and three Sunday schools each Sunday. While teaching these classes, he found the need for lesson help and explanatory notes geared to the reading level of his students.

He wrote the first pamphlet “Our Sunday School Quarterly,” and it was an instant success.

The first print shop opened in Lake View, IL, in 1875. The first plant opened on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago in a three-story frame building.

In 1882, the D.C. Cook Publishing Company moved to downtown Elgin in the old Woolen Mill factory building. Fourteen big cylinder presses were installed in the new quarters starting a stream of Sunday school literature from Elgin to every quarter of the globe.

By the end of 1883, the firm was Elgin’s second-largest industrial employer. In one four-day period that year, the company received 6,425 letters and sent out 68,400 second-class packages weighing 21 and a half tons.

The new Elgin post office, completed in 1884, channeled enough Cook literature to quickly rank as the third-busiest in the state of Illinois by weight of mail handled. Circulation of some of the publications ran into the hundred thousands.

The building as it looks today. (CREDIT: Google Maps)

At the end of the 1880s, the regular publications — four weekly papers, one semi-monthly, 10 monthlies and 18 quarterlies — required a work force of 350.

Soon, D. C. Cook Publishing was operating out of a congested conglomeration of buildings at the northeast corner of Chicago St. and the Fox River, a site ill-equipped for the needs of an expanding, high-volume, progressive-minded firm. Printing presses worked all night.

By 1901, D.C. Cook Publishing had outgrown the first building in Elgin. David C. Cook chose Elgin architect David E. Postle to design the new home for D.C. Cook Publishing.

The company chose a spacious new 19-acre site at 850 North Grove Avenue and a thoughtfully designed factory complex was built.

The frontage building consists of a stately two-story Greek Revival administration building, flanked by two single-story wings that, after the 1910 addition, extended nearly 400 feet along North Grove Avenue. More than one-and-a-half million bricks were used in the construction of the buildings.

Because the publishing company was facing a residential area, the use of red brick, wooden double-hung windows and a hipped roof helped blend with the nearby neighborhood. The two-story design is in scale with the residences in the area.

The main factory buildings are in the rear of the frontage building. Innovative, state-of-the-art features designed to increase the efficiency, productivity and comfort of the employees included skylights, a fresh air ventilation system, adaptable one-story construction, a lunchroom, and a recreation hall.

There were almost 10,000 square feet of skylights.

The Courier-News reported on Feb. 19, 1902, that “… the lunch room where employees are served with excellent meals at a nominal price. Although some 150 persons dine there daily, the restaurant is not yet self-supporting, and the deficiency each month is made up by the company rather than to allow it to be discontinued.”

When built, the front buildings were entirely separate from the buildings in the rear and connected by a covered passageway.

The buildings in the rear were fireproof, being built of brick, with roofs of corrugated iron and glass supported on steel girders. Supposedly, D.C. Cook Publishing did not carry any fire insurance when the new factory opened.

All the floors were hardwood laid on solid beds of gravel believed to be a perfect foundation for printing presses and other heavy machinery.

The rear buildings were 167 feet by 252 feet and housed the power plant, stock room, pressroom bindery, mailroom, merchandise and shipping rooms. The buildings were divided into six fireproof compartments protected by brick walls and iron doors.

The Courier-News reported on Feb. 19, 1902: “Provision is made for handling ten carloads of coal in a very short time and moving sidewalks on the endless chain principle will unload a carload of paper in 20 minutes.”

By 1913, D.C. Cook publishing was printing and mailing 15 tons of materials each day.

Vacant since 1995, when D.C. Cook Publishing Company moved its headquarters to Colorado, the building is threatened with demolition. The company has tried to sell the 8-acre property for many years, although they still use the warehouses for storage. Proposed plans over the years have always included demolishing the beautiful Greek Revival style administration building and a magnificent oak tree on the grounds.

The D. C. Cook Administrative Building is a historically and architecturally significant Elgin structure. The Elgin History Museum is encouraging the Elgin Heritage Commission and the Elgin City Council to landmark the property for future generations.