Plaques preserving history of businesses that raised Monticello's profile

Plaques preserving history of businesses that raised Monticello's profile

MONTICELLO — A significant portion of Monticello's rich history can be traced to its historic downtown buildings, most of which date back a century and more.

The city's Historic Preservation Commission is trying to bring some of the structures' stories back to life with plaques that outline just what businesses resided in those majestic edifices.

For example, take "pharmacy corner" at Washington and Charter streets, where the future J.M. Bender, Dr. W.B. Caldwell, Gucker and Harris drugstores all resided. That corner storefront is currently unoccupied, so it is hard for passers-by to know its significant ties to the town's past.

Last fall, it was where the first of four plaques went up to outline the history of downtown buildings. In the case of pharmacy corner, it is on a structure that once famously touted the history of patent medicine producer Pepsin Syrup on its outside wall.

The building is a prime example of one business sector that drove Monticello's early growth, according to Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Keddy Hutson.

"The plaques are to help heighten public awareness of our historic architectural resources," Hutson said. "You know, people get so acclimated to stuff, they may not realize that buildings had significant ties to Monticello's character, history and wealth. A lot of it was generated through the Pepsin Syrup building and the medicine that was formulated here."

Three other plaques have been installed, including one at CF&H Insurance at 113 S. State St., which at one time housed City Hall, the post office and jail, and later a hatchery and IGA; the current First National Bank building at 201 W. Main St., the past home of grocery stores and the Mrs. Maggle Winn Restaurant in the 1800s before becoming the bank in 1952; and the most recent one at 100 E. Washington St. That structure is now the home of the Monticello Dance, Gymnastics, Fitness & Arts Academy, and in the past was owned by John N. Dighton and housed the J.W. Rice Department Store, H.P. Martin Department Store, the M & M Store and Kaiser's Department Store.

Although it is now a local dance studio, the site has a long history of housing department stores, including Kaiser's.

And although the plaques beckon to the past, they also have the future in mind, according to preservation commission member Marion Suhre.

"There is a place for a QR code on the plaques. Someday, we hope to have it where you can walk up, scan and get more information on it," he said, noting that there is also plenty of information on Monticello's past at the Piatt County Genealogical and Historical Society, located in the Piatt County Office Building at 1115 N. State St. in Monticello.

Hutson said the idea for the plaques originally came from former city Superintendent Floyd Allsop, with commission members liking the idea and setting back money in their budget for the program.

He added that the commission will be careful about how many plaques go up, saying he does not want them to be diluted if seen as commonplace, but feels more could be on the way.

"For example, the old national bank would be a good candidate, probably," he added.

Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.

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