May 03, 2007

Preservation Summer offers unique opportunity

by Christi Mathis


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CARBONDALE, Ill. – Some of Southern Illinois' gems of history and architecture will come alive in a unique, hands-on learning experience this summer courtesy of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Preservation Summer 2007 is an upper-level historic preservation field study offered through SIUC's architecture school and history department. Continuing education students and "community listeners" are welcome to participate as well.

The popular summer course will focus primarily on two projects: the Kornthal Church and parsonage near Jonesboro and the Cairo urban design and community project known as "Cairo Studio". The eight-week session begins June 11. Instructors are Robert Swenson, associate professor and architect from the School of Architecture, and Michael Batinski, chair of the history department. The class offers interdisciplinary Core Curriculum credit of three-six hours, depending upon the amount of time the student commits to the project, and it's open to all majors.

"It's an incredible opportunity," Swenson said. "To be immersed in the area and local history is wonderful."

"It's a nice thing for the students," Batinski said. "They've spent a lot of time learning how to do library and classroom work, which helps them, but this is an opportunity for them to take those skills and apply them to hands-on situations, which is very special. They learn not only about the region and its history but they come away with applied skills they can build on."

Batinski also calls the project "probably one of the most pleasurable learning and teaching experiences that I've witnessed and engaged in."

"It's good to see the people of the community who come and who return, the community listeners," he said. "This project is a good illustration of what this University is all about. It's great to see the students see that what they learn here can affect and is affecting them."

Added Swenson: "We try to give students a sense of where things are going. This has to do with rebuilding community."

The Kornthal Church traces its roots to the 1850-60 era, built by the Austrian immigrants who settled in the fertile Illinois valley they called kornthal (valley of grain). The church and two-story 1890 Queen Anne style parsonage earned spots on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The Kornthal Memorial is working to preserve and restore the church and parsonage and the summer class will play a big role.

The Heritage Conservation Network, an international not-for-profit building conservation workshop organization, will conduct a two-week July workshop focusing on the Kornthal buildings. Preservation Summer participants will work under conservator/technical director Bill Black Jr. of Ray Black and Sons Construction to prepare for and participate in the workshop at no additional cost. Others pay hundreds of dollars for the hands-on workshop. Plans call for porch and interior floor repairs, foundation and window work and other projects for the parsonage with work continuing on the church too.

Preservation Summer participants will prepare drawings, photographs, conduct oral interviews and other research in preparation for the restoration workshop and in hopes the documents may be chosen for a spot in the Library of Congress. Participants may choose to live for periods of time on-site and/or with members of the Kornthal Church community.

In Cairo, Swenson and Batinski said Preservation Summer plans to work with members of the community's last service organization, the Rotary Club, as well as other local residents. They will update documentation of Cairo's current land use, buildings and their condition and significance and details of what remains in the historic district as defined by the National Register of Historic Places from the 1970s. They will build on work begun in previous summers by the class that originated in 2001. Classmates are helping with creation of master plans and downtown development proposals. Some students may elect to continue study begun in 2005 by the class relating to Cairo blues venues and musicians.

Some participants may choose to continue delving into Juchereau's Tannery and French outpost in Pulaski County. Research about the exact locale and other details relating to the 1702-1704 French site is under way. This was the first post occupied by Europeans on the lower Ohio River. It lasted a very short time and the class will check stories about its demise ranging from a yellow fever plague to mass killings by Indians angered that their food source, the buffalo, was being slaughtered by the thousands for hides and tongues by settlers.

Preservation Summer also incorporates field trips to various area historical attractions and participants enjoy local events including an ice-cream social. Typically, students spend one evening each week in the classroom preparing and then one to two days on site, depending upon their credit hours involved. Class members work independently on site, typically in teams. They'll work alongside graduate students in the new architecture master's program at SIUC and plans call for continuing involvement in these efforts with a fall Urban Studies class and with future Preservation Summer activities.

For more information about Preservation Summer 2007, contact Swenson at 618/453-4772 (e-mail or Batinski at 618/453-4391 (e-mail To register for credit contact Kim Taylor, academic adviser, at 618/453-1227. To register as a continuing educator or community listener find information online at


Caption 1: Kornthal Parsonage- The Kornthal Church parsonage, built south of Jonesboro in 1890, will be the focus of much of the preservation and restoration work to be done this summer by the Preservation Summer 2007 class from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Photo provided

Caption 2: Historic Kornthal Church — The historic Kornthal Church, built 1850-60 and viewed here from the northwest, will be one of the work sites for Preservation Summer 2007 from the Southern Illinois University Carbondale architecture school and history department.

Photo provided