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Published by Historic Elsah Foundation
P. O. Box 117, Elsah, IL  62028

     The impression visitors get on arrival at a new place is mainly decided by what they first see and feel.  What they see is the material expression of the spirit of those living and working there.  This creates a character of place, which decides what the visitor will feel.  

     People coming to Elsah are also welcomed by a combination of these factors.  In the case of our village the tangible expressions, the structures, streets and squares with their plantings, date mostly from the 19th century, with here and there an overlay representing late 20th century life.  The spirit, or character, of the place becomes evident in the human activities of the Elsahites. Character is not a given static fact, it is a living process.  It makes up the everyday environment.  Fortunately there still is an inter-relationship between the 19th century architectural surroundings and the present living patterns of the Villagers.

     Thus visitors to Elsah still find a Village Character, as expressed in a certain grace of life and a harmony of shapes.  The community appears relaxed and natural the way it fits in its landscape, and it seems to have always been there.

     There are very few villages, if any, as perfectly preserved and contained, and yet lived-in as Elsah, and we who choose to live here -- who herited it, as it were are actually only custodians of it.  And custodianship implies responsibilities.  These responsibilities include the preservation of both our homes and public buildings, the plantings along the streets and squares, and the support of traditional community life.  In the past years Villagers have given ample evidence of their acceptance of these responsibilities.  

     The Great Flood of 1993 put the Village to test.  It was a question of survival, a question of accepting State funded help, and work very hard to rebuild -- or, as some communities did, just take the funds and let go.  Here the true character of the Villagers came through -- they rebuilt!  Though the residents of Elsah have always been active in the preservation of their homes, and in the restoration of Elsah Foundation and their Village Government, it became evident that this community truly valued the beauty of its Village after the 1993 flood. The restoration of the flood-damaged buildings was, and still is, done with the utmost of care and devotion.  While individuals restored their homes, the Historic Elsah Foundation accepted the responsibility of rescuing Farley's Music Hall and returning it to its former Community Center self, and the Village Government focused on needed landscaping and replanting on public land.

     The flood not only damaged structures in the Village, but it also destroyed many trees.  Some died, while others, seemingly having withstood the water, suddenly fell during 1994 November storms.  All in all the Village lost between twenty and thirty trees on both public and private property.  Many of these trees, lining the streets, were tall old maples or cottonwoods and sycamores that had matured to their full growth.  The disappearance of so many natural features has dramatically changed the "look and feel" of the Village.  A true village needs the tall, mostly vase shaped visual anchors along its streets.  The interplay of the trees and the structures behind them makes the streetscape more three dimensional.  

     Fortunately Elsah's Board of Trustees is very aware of the importance of the trees to the Village Character.  As part of its Tree Planting Plan it consulted with Rich Nester of Belleville,e an arborist, and Shear Artistry Tree Service, whom the Southern Illinois Extension Service had recommended, for assistance in identifying potential problem trees.  Several trees were soon cut down, to be replaced, leaving the Village looking rather bare and naked.  It was a sad sight seeing the large trees first truncated, then further cut down and finally made to completely disappear when Steve Godfrey removed their stumps.  The Village had lost some old friends, and as Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) wrote in a poem called Trees,

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

     Kilmer ends it, four couplets later with...

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

     With advice from the Greenery in Godfrey and the Principia Biology Department on "appropriate trees and suitable locations," the Building and Grounds Commission of the Elsah Village Board embarked on an extensive replanting project.  The plan could practically redesign the Village if not carefully handled.  To show how delicate this project is:  One problem the commission encountered was the increased traffic patterns on the Elsah roads, which requires it to choose more "urban tolerant" trees (such as Lyon's Choice Elm at the Post Office), and sometimes change the placement of trees to the inside of fences, on private property, rather than alongside the curb.  Care has to be taken to preserve the simplicity of the Village Character, and plan "generous and noble trees" (The Anatomy of a Village by Thomas Sharp).

     This replanting plan is an ongoing effort, with slow growing results.  But already one encounters new arrivals happily settling into their new environment, adding to the Village Character.  As we all know, trees have soul.

     As for the Community Activists, the Village Happenings, the Patterns of Life, or whatever one wants to call them, early December of 1995 proved that part of the Village Character is alive and well. There were some old-time happenings and some new ones, and some were happening again at the recently straightened and restored Farley's Music Hall.  The event that brought the whole community together was the "Hanging of the Greens," a one-every-other-year event sponsored by the members of the Methodist Church.  

     This year's benefit was held on Saturday, December 2nd, from 3:00 until 7:00 p.m. Susan Young, who was in charge, together with a group of Hard Working Women, organized a terrific program, consisting of Musical Entertainment, a House Tour, a Bake Sale, and a Fine Arts and Craft Sale.  Eleanor Barnal, June Cronin, Marjorie Doerr, Jeannie Kisker, Pauline Bradley, Patty Taetz, Marie Oleson, and Sally Horbelt were some of these Hard Working Women -- both oldtimers and newcomers working together for a community goal.

     The Village Board supported the event by providing police supervision.  Historic Elsah Foundation decorated Farley's Music Hall for the Christmas season and offered free hot drinks. As Susan wrote in her thank-you note to all who helped make this a success, "It was great to see the whole town pitch in and work together toward a common effort.  That special "Elsah Spirit" really showed itself this season."  There we are about that "spirit" again!  The event "brought in a gross total of $3,941.75 in the form of ticket sales, bake sale, crafts, carriage rides and donations.  The money is going into the building fund and will go toward painting the church."

     The musical programs were held in the Methodist and Christian Science Churches, as well as in, appropriately, Farley's Music Hall.  Chairman Barnal, Kevin and Amy Wilson, Nancy Misgades, Gay Anderson, the Allen Singers and Dale Lockhard performed at the Methodist Church, while Lynn Conner, Gina Rogers, Susan and Emily Reynolds and Beth and Loren Robertson, took care of the music at the Christian Science Church.  The Jerseyville Show Choir sang some wonderful songs from the Lion's King at Farley's Music Hall, bringing back memories of "olden times" when the Hall served as the center of community activities.  

     While the Civic Center hosted the Fine Arts and Craft Sale, Farley's sported a large table with the most delectable home-baked goodies for sale. It also hosted an old-fashioned visit from Santa.  Eight families opened their homes, giving visitors an early feeling of Christmas with their lovely decorated rooms. The Elsah businesses were open for those who chose to browse and/or shop.  There were also carriage rides, romantically lit in the December dusk.  And all along the weather was cooperating beautifully.

     The next day, Sunday, December 3rd, Historic Elsah Foundation held a small recognition ceremony at Farley's for Village property owners receiving the "In the Preservation Spirit" award.  These awards recognized property owners' special efforts after the flood -- beyond the minimum requirements outlined in the Village of Elsah Historical Ordinance -- to preserve and restore their historic buildings for future generations.  

     The awards were given to the Principia for three of their Village properties along the Mississippi and Mill Streets, Robert and Judith Doerr, Betsy and Henry Holt for their home and the frame house next door, MArcia and Bill Charlton, Julia Biesk, Richard and Peggy Ouderkirk, Sarah Batzer and Tim Jasina, Marjorie Doerr, Joanne and Jim Evans, Jerry and Patty Taetz, David Slusser, Randy Kinder, D.J. Stamm and Gino Dilorio, Richard and Rhoda Mesker, Dorothy Pendleton, Paula and Ned Bradley, and Eric and Susan Mack.

     Special awards for Counsel and Advice were given to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, and to Jack Luer, a restoration architect.  Jane Pfeifer, the Mayor of Elsah, and Melvin Starkey of S & M contractors received awards for their special interest and efforts.

     To our great surprise, Mayor Pfeifer handed us, Historic Elsah Foundation, an award.  This award is in recognition"of the restoration of Farley's Music Hall and will have a special place in our "office."

     After the short ceremony Jane Pfeifer hosted a delightful reception right there, giving the recipients and others who attended a chance to visit and compare restoration notes and also to see what was accomplished at Farley's.

     This event closed the 1995 season.