After the 47th annual Fort Massac Encampment draws to a close, another big activity is coming to the area of Fort Massac State Park.
The demolition of the 10,000-square-feet of former Laidlaw buildings next-door to the park is scheduled to being Monday, Oct. 18. The contract was awarded to S. Shafer Excavating & Demolition, of Pontoon Beach. The work is estimated to take four to six weeks.
It was June 21 when Friends of Fort Massac (FoFM) officially received a $200,000 grant through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Equal Opportunity (DCEO)to be used strictly for the demolition of the buildings.
“This announcement has been forthcoming for a while,” said State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) as he addressed the around 30 people — including FoFM members, representatives of the City of Metropolis and Massac County, FMSP employees, DECO representatives and State Rep. Patrick Windhorst — who were present. “Now, this incredible organization can build this village they've envisioned for many years.”
Located just west of FMSP, the Laidlaw site is the original location of Massac Village, which was founded in 1838 and evolved into the City of Metropolis. The site was a vital part of Metropolis' economy for decades with portions of the building complex dating back over 100 years.
Early inhabitants of this area were those whose sole occupations were hunters or flatboats. In the early 1800s, Captain Bissell, the first commander of Fort Massac, built a house just outside the fort. Later that year, eight licenses were issued for "retailers of merchandises." With the arrival of these merchants, the settlement grew and became Massac Village. With its location directly on the Ohio River, tradesmen traveled the waterways to trade goods. In 1846, another town was settled nearby called Metropolis City. By the late 1800s, Massac Village and Metropolis City were annexed together and became known as Metropolis.
In 1903, buggy and carriage works were manufactured at Metropolis Bending Co., which in 1916 began producing wood bows for open-type automobiles. The company's subsidiary, Fort Massac Chair Co., began production of folding bridge tables in 1930.
From 1937 to 1964, it was the production site of Babee-Tenda, a child safety chair, except during World War II when production turned to folding chairs for the Army Air Corps until 1948.
Good Luck Glove Co. operated an extension of its company at the site for a time in the 1960s before Laidlaw Corp. opened on the property in 1972 manufacturing wire coat hangers, flyswatters, screen door springs, miscellaneous wire pieces and blending chemical used in the dry cleaning industry until moving to a new facility in the Metropolis Industrial Park in 2002.
After being vacant for two years, the City of Metropolis purchased the 12 acres in December 2004. FoFM began working toward the purchase the Laidlaw property in March 2009 and was able to do so in December of 2013. From 2014-20, “we've been working on grants from different sources” and held several fundraisers to fund the demolition and complete various environmental studies required to tear down the buildings, said FoFM president Mike Korte.
FoFM traces its roots to late 2002 when FMSP officials and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the state office that oversees the state's parks, were making plans to be a part of the the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis & Clark Discovery Expedition in November 2003. While Paducah won the spot for the official premiere event stop, FMSP had its own part with re-enactors and the Lewis & Clark replica boat.
After the event, FoFM decided to keep the organization going by assisting FMSP with events and developing its own dream of “building a period village, similar to Wilmington, Delaware. We'll hope to be open seven days a week and have re-enactors there every day,” Korte said.
FoFM's plan for Massac Village is to include an artifacts museum; a flatboat; authentic booth sites showcasing the "retailers of merchandises" from the era; a general store; a church/meeting house; and an eatery.
“Getting this project through has been an emotional roller coaster,” Fowler said, addressing the FoFM members present. “This is just the beginning. You have a vision. This is a step in the right direction.”
The demolition, noted Windhorst, (R-Metropolis), “will be a great improvement to our area and open up a lot of opportunities for the Friends of Fort Massac and our city, county and region.”
Korte noted that “once the building comes down, then our work begins with fundraising.”
FoFM membership is fully open to the public. Annual dues are $5. Membership ensures the receipt of current minutes of all meetings, as well as notifications of upcoming projects and events, and input in the Massac Village building project.
FoFM meetings are held monthly on the third Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at the FMSP visitors' center.
For more information, visit Friends of Fort Massac on Facebook.
In addition, FoFM also accepts donations, which can be designated to Friends or to anything specifically at FMSP or toward Massac Village. Donations and membership dues can be mailed to Friends of Fort Massac, P.O. Box 653, Metropolis, IL 62960.