ROCK ISLAND — The last remnants of the pioneers and families that contributed to founding the county and building its courthouse were removed from the historic structure on Thursday.
The 12 founders' tablets, etched with the names of early settlers in Rock Island County, had been kept on display inside the courthouse since it opened in 1897.
Two employees from Valley Construction carefully maneuvered the final 500-pound marble tablet on a dolly, easing it down the steps and out of the Rock Island County courthouse.
Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos said the tablets will be kept in protective storage until a new location is found.
With a crane already in place, Valley Construction may begin demolition of the courthouse as early as Monday.
"It's just an old building that's outlived its use," Bustos said.
Court functions were moved next door to the newly constructed $28 million Justice Center Annex in December.
On Tuesday in Peoria, 10th Circuit Court Judge Jodi Hoos dismissed a lawsuit brought by six plaintiffs against the county and the Public Building Commission in an effort to halt demolition of the 123-year-old courthouse.
Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Rock Island Preservation Society, the Moline Preservation Society, the Broadway Historic District Association and Frederick Shaw, one of the bondholders in the Justice Center Annex project, filed the suit Feb. 6 in Rock Island County.
As part of the basis for dismissal, Hoos said local governments, including the county, are exempt from the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act. Therefore, she said, no storm water runoff permit was necessary from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in order to proceed with demolition.
The SHPO revoked its compliance letter in November when it was discovered demolition of the courthouse was not included in the permit application for construction of the annex.
Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms told the Dispatch-Argus on Tuesday that until the county obtained the proper permit for storm water runoff from the SHPO, the city would not approve a demolition permit. If demolition begins, Thoms said an emergency stop-work order would be issued.
"We are prepared to do that, but I don't believe it will come to that," City Manager Randy Tweet said Thursday.
"We are waiting for the actual judge's ruling. We haven't seen it yet," Tweet said. "We are waiting for something in writing to prove they don't fall within the historic preservation guidelines. From our standpoint, we are making sure all the paperwork is in order before we issue a demolition permit."
"We've got a good working relationship with the county. I'm confident everything will go according to proper procedure," Tweet said.
Bustos supervised the removal of the final tablet.
He affirmed that a city demolition permit is not needed since the county issued its own permit March 1. It was determined the courthouse site was never annexed into the city of Rock Island after the U.S. government gave the land to the county through a federal land grant in the 19th century. Therefore, the courthouse is in the county, and not the city.
"The court (ruling) earlier this week was very clear that Rock Island County has the exclusive right to move toward demolition," Bustos said. "As much as we appreciate all the passion that's gone into this, no processes are going to slow us down to move toward demolition now."
Standing inside the cold, empty courthouse, once a glorious example of Spanish renaissance design by the Kansas City architecture firm of Gunn & Curtis, the darkened, open rotunda is still an impressive site. The intricately-designed tile floors are cracked in places, but still intact.
But removal of the architectural domes from the roof in the 1950s, along with years of neglect and deferred maintenance, allowed the once-grand structure to slip into a state requiring millions of dollars to repair.
Bustos said most of the decorative elements such as the wrought-iron railings and other fixtures will be removed and likely sold as determined by county board members.
Outside the building, the other tablets lay atop one another, carefully padded on a cart, ready to be moved into storage.
Visible was the name of Thomas Titterington and 13 of the Titterington family members, next to the name of George Wells and 21 additional Wells family members who played a role in settling the county.
Bustos said it will take several weeks to raze the building, along with its sturdy Bedford limestone exterior.
"It's a large building, there's a lot of salvage that will have to take place as it's in the process of being demolished," Bustos said.