Chatterton’s Block

Quick Stats

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Historic Significance

Chatterton’s Block is made up of five separate buildings on Old State Capital Square. Dating from 1853 to 1929, these historic structures display an impressive range and progression of architectural styles, from Italianate to Art Deco. Nestled within the Central Springfield Historic District, Chatterton’s Block had long been recognized as historically significant. One particularly distinctive building of the group is the 1853 Chatterton’s Jewelry Store. This Italianate brick structure is one of only seven buildings that remain on the Old State Capital Square from the Lincoln Era. In fact, Abraham Lincoln bought the wedding ring for his wife, Mary Todd, from Chatterton’s first jewelry store, which was located on the same site.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Threat at Time of Listing - 1996

Like many medium-sized cities, Springfield’s downtown underwent significant changes throughout the 20th century. As many retailers relocated from urban centers to peripheral areas and shopping malls, downtown areas were all too often abandoned. In the early 1970s, the main tenant of Chatterton’s Block, K-Mart, departed. The buildings then sat vacant for two decades, suffering from serious neglect and deterioration. With extensive water damage, rodent infestation and concerns about the foundations, the structures had become threats to public safety by the mid-1990s. When a city inspector spotted a hole in 1996 in the roof from an adjacent building, the owners were ordered to either repair or demolish the structure. Although the City of Springfield hoped the buildings could be saved, the owner showed little interest in rehabilitating the historic block, instead stating his interest in demolition. With time running out, Landmarks Illinois included Chatterton Block on the list of Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in 1996.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Preservation Efforts

Local developers Gene and Betty Gerber decided to take on the project and knew they were in for a challenge. Supported by Mayor Karen Hasara and the Elijah Iles Foundation, the Gerbers developed an alternative plan to rehabilitate the buildings for retail, office and residential space. Funding the project was made possible through a combination of private investment, assistance from a tax increment financing (TIF) district and use of Federal Historic Tax Credits. In addition to saving historic Chatterton Block, the project created jobs and kept the downtown property on the tax rolls. The community celebrated as Chatterton Block reopened for business in 1999 featuring new apartments, state offices, parking and ground-level retail.

In 2001, Landmarks Illinois recognized Gene Gerber and his late wife Betty as recipients of a Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for their transformative work on Chatterton Block. A preservation success story, Chatterton Block matters to the continuity of the Old State Capitol Square, to downtown revitalization and to the heritage and people of Springfield.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

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