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Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009 02:25 pm

Clayville’s back on track

Historic site takes shape, hosts first major event

Volunteers from the Pleasant Plains Historical Society spend every Saturday cleaning out buildings at the Clayville Historic Site. This outbuilding was completely cleared last week.
They’ve vanquished weeds and brush, separated worthy antiques from junk and have begun restoring aged, but sound, buildings. This weekend the Pleasant Plains Historical Society will show off its success, hosting its first major community event at the Clayville Historic Site.

The “Clayville Cruise In” will parade classic cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles along a 15-mile route from Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site in Petersburg to the Clayville site, located 15 miles northwest of Springfield along Route 125. Jim Verkuilen, president of the historical society and mayor of Pleasant Plains, says 30 vehicles and 15 tractors have already committed to the inaugural car show, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday. Local groups will sell food items, including popcorn, snow cones and cotton candy, and host a square dance after the show.

It’s been four months since the Pleasant Plains Historical Society became an official nonprofit organization to purchase and restore Clayville, and only two months since the group signed an option agreement to buy the 13-acre historic site [see “Plains to purchase Clayville,” June 25]. The society paid $7,000 up front to David Bourland, the site’s current owner, and agreed to pay the remainder of the $200,000 purchase price by June 2010.

With financial logistics settled — at least for now — volunteers are tackling cleanup efforts. Clayville, once a stagecoach stop between Springfield and Beardstown, was transformed after 1961 into a rural life center with 1830s blacksmith, leather-making and knitting demonstrations. Its ownership changed to Sangamon State University in 1973 and then to Bourland in 1992. Since then the property’s buildings and grounds have been neglected and fell into disrepair.

For the past six weeks, 20-or-so community members have shown up every Saturday to mow grass, haul trash from buildings and catalogue antiques. They tore down a dilapidated outbuilding last week and plan to replace all of the other buildings’ roofs with cedar shingles this fall.

Volunteers have catalogued antique dishes, paintings and picture frames during the cleanup of Clayville.
“No one walks away without doing something,” Verkuilen says. “It brings back memories for a lot of people. We all want to see it get done.”

Volunteers have specifically focused on the Broadwell Inn and Tavern, built in 1834 and listed as one of the oldest brick buildings in Illinois. They’ve cleared all of the debris left behind by varmints and vagrants and, in the process, uncovered several antique tables, benches, luggage trunks and beds that support mattresses with ropes, instead of with springs.

“We keep finding antiques,” Verkuilen says. “We underestimated how much would be in here that we could save.”

The historical society ran into a minor setback in late July, when vandals broke windows in some of the buildings. Police have since patrolled the area, Verkuilen says, and no other incidents have occurred.

In the past month, the Pleasant Plains Historical Society has hosted outdoor movie nights at Clayville and local Boy Scouts have set up a campground on the property. Other Clayville events are in the works, including a community Christmas celebration in the restored Broadwell Tavern. 
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