10308 Main Street
—Written by Irene Borre
Memorial Hall stands firmly on Main Street in Richmond with the bicentennial time capsule on one side and the World War Memorials on the other. Directly behind the building is Well #1, Richmond’s first supply of “city water.” It has always been the heartbeat of village affairs-just as the original purpose of such a building had been defined in the will of Charles DeWitt McConnell filed September 5, 1903. He was the grandson of William McConnell, the first settler of Richmond. He had left a bequest of $10,000 “to be used for the purpose of erecting a village or city hall, the same to be called Memorial Hall, to be used when required by church societies and school functions free of charge, and not to be used for immoral exhibitions or immoral shows, the said money to be paid to the lawful trustee of said village whenever said building or hall shall have been completed and approved by executor, hereinafter named.”
Mr. E. C. Covell, then president of the board searched for a suitable site. In October of 1905, the land was purchased from Charles Kruse, owner of the corner hardware store. Bids were to be made by March 26, 1906, for the accepted building plan and a contract for building Memorial Hall was let to Mr. Fred Arp, a local mason, for $9,348.
After the inheritance tax was paid, $9,682 was received The Memorial Hall is located at 10023 Golf Avenue in Richmond, Illinois. on November 6, 1906, for the $10,000 bequest. No date is given, but the first Sunday after completion, the dedication was held. Four hundred and three chairs were ordered for a cost of $489.80. It was heated by furnaces purchased from Charles Kruse, and lighted by gas fixtures.
It was complete with a large balcony and a stage. Scenery curtains were ordered from the Cox Scenic Company to be delivered by February 15.
Village board meetings had been held at the Richmond Bank building and the Richmond Gazette office. The first village board meeting was held at Memorial Hall on June I, 1908, with Mr. E. C. Covell as president.
The auditorium on the first floor had a ticket office and coat check space on either side as you entered. The balcony Was reached by a stairway on either side of the entrance door. It also had a curved front railing that swept gracefully along. The stage had dressing rooms off to either side.
The auditorium was, for many years, the performing home of the J. B. Rotnour Players, producers of good family entertainment and melodrama. It was also used for school graduations; Richmond Grade School and High School, plus the one-room rural schools in the Richmond-Burton Townships. School plays and operettes were performed there. Memorial Day services were held inside the building. Alumni dances with crepe paper decorations, borrowed wicker porch furniture, floor lamps and lovely baskets of lilacs and garden flowers made an elegant setting. Ladies of the local churches prepared the alumni dinner in the basement kitchen. Tables filled the basement hall. The Grand Army of the Republic and Women’s Relief Corps sponsored a George Washington Birthday Ball every February 22 with decorations of red, white and blue. This was a formal dance and all who came were dressed appropriately, it was the social event of the year. In 1908, the village board granted permission to the high school to use the hall for basketball. On November 4, 1930, Frank Love, the superintendent of Richmond High School was given permission to install showers at the hall at no expense to the village. On December 5, 1933, Mr. Love, chairman of a committee, received a $3,000 grant and the civil works administration was contacted to make “major changes” in the’ hall to provide the regulation-sized basketball court. The balcony was made smaller as well as the stage and dressing rooms.
Before 1930, the basement had two jail cells that frequently held a wayward drunk or hobo.
The Memorial Hall basement has also been a temporary home for the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary. The senior citizen group, the Pioneers, have also enjoyed the dining room and kitchen. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts also held their meetings there. It has been the polling place for elections. The village clerk had office space and the board continued to hold their meetings there. The police department occupied the room where Richmond Public Library had its very beginnings in the 19305. It moved to a portion of the drug store building on Broadway and Main in the 1940s until July 7, 1972, when it came back to occupy the upstairs auditorium of the Memorial Hall. On October 22, 1990, the Nippersink District Library moved into their new building on Hill Road.
On March 2, 1993, the village offices moved into the new village hall which also houses the police department. This would leave Memorial Hall completely abandoned were it not for the interested individuals who desire to keep the downtown area the same. The Nippersink Creative Arts organization immediately found continued community use for this Memorial building. Chris Gallagher secured a grant from the Illinois Arts Council in 1992. At present it houses the food pantry, the Richmond Spring Grove Chamber of Commerce and after-school classes in the arts and dancing for children. Special art classes for adults are sometimes held on Saturdays. The Richmond-Burton High School drama class enjoys presenting their plays on the stage they have restored to original size. Murder mystery nights for fundraisers by Creative Arts are an annual event. A memorial service for local artist, Gene Derdeyn, filled the auditorium.
Through the efforts of Chris Gallagher, Memorial Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in Washington D.C. in September 1993. An awards ceremony and plaquing service was held in May of 1994 at the Memorial Hall.
It is indeed still filling a community need and takes its rightful place in the now busy life of the village.