October 23, 2009

Volunteers needed for Cairo shotgun house work

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Positive things are happening in the historic riverfront town of Cairo.

A coalition that includes faculty and students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s School of Architecture and College of Education and Human Services, community members, the Vision 20/20 Committee and officials from the city, the chamber of commerce and the school district are working together and the results are becoming apparent in a variety of ways.

First, there’s ongoing restoration work on one of the city’s historic “shotgun” style houses, so named for their long, narrow design where it’s said one could a fire a gunshot through the front door and see it sail through the back door, striking nothing in between.

The Cairo shotgun house preservation and restoration project even jumped into the national spotlight recently. Neal Moore, CNN citizen journalist, posted a video featuring interviews with SIUC faculty and students and others involved in the project at his online blog at http://flashriversafari.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/shotgun-restoration-cairo-illinois/. The video, nearly 14 minutes in length, is part of Moore’s documentation of his canoe travels on the Mississippi River.

Featured are interviews with Robert Swenson, SIUC associate professor and architect, Bill Harrell of the Vision 20/20 Committee and SIUC students Jim Schmidt, Toni Lettiere and Shanell McGoy. Although crews have already accomplished much in the last several months, labor on the house continues.

During a workday Saturday, Oct. 24, volunteers will finish exterior painting, cover several windows with painted protective plywood and install a protective tarpaulin over the roof to preserve it for spring re-roofing. Swenson said they are seeking more helpers. Just show up after 8:30 a.m. at the house located at 2910 Sycamore Ave. Cairo will utilize the restored historic home as a community preservation education center with sponsorship from the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, city of Cairo and Cairo Vision 20/20 Committee.

Fourth-year architecture design studio students are also meeting with Cairo officials regularly as they plan for additional shotgun house restorations and numerous other projects. Swenson’s Urban Design and Community studio class is working with the Cairo Vision 20/20 Committee as well as with Mayor Judson Childs, the Cairo City Council and the newly formed City Planning Advisory Group. In addition, they are working with Cairo school Superintendent Leotis Swopes and the school board studying ideas for revitalizing the 1950’s-era Cairo junior high facility in order to relocate junior and senior high school students back to the center of the city.

Plans are already in the works for another shotgun house project in Cairo during the summer of 2010. Shanell McGoy, a doctoral health education student, purchased one of Cairo’s shotgun houses at the recent Alexander County tax sale auction and it will be the site of next summer’s preservation and restoration project. Again, SIUC students and faculty will work with community members, participants in the June workshop from the non-profit organization Adventures in Preservation (formerly known as Heritage Conservation Network), contractor Ray Black and Son Inc., AmeriCorps VISTA, the Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone (SIDEZ) and the Vision 20/20 Committee.

This house at 224 12th St. will be the first project toward their goal of creating affordable residential housing. To make monetary or materials donations for the ongoing shotgun house restoration projects, contact Bill Harrell 618/967-8270 or Monica Smith at the Cairo Library at 618/734-1840 or via email at cplibrary@lazernetwireless.net.