The Case of the Former Rock Island County Courthouse
In downtown Rock Island, Illinois, there has been a years-long battle over the fate of the former Rock Island County Courthouse.
To my knowledge, I've only been in the courthouse a couple of times...when my fiance and I filed for our marriage license, and then a few years later, when we misplaced our marriage license and had to get a copy of it.
Built in 1897, in downtown Rock Island, Illinois, near the banks of the Mississippi River, the old courthouse building stood tall, one of the first buildings one sees when crossing the river from Iowa into Illinois via the Centennial Bridge.
A beautiful structure, constructed from Bedford limestone, was dedicated in 1897. You can read more about the history here
The beautiful copper domes were removed in the 1950s, leaving the slightly flattened structure we see today:
While it has been missing its crown and glory for these last few decades, it still retains much of its beauty.
Sadly, that beauty might be lost, very soon.
A years long battle has been brewing over the fate of this structure. The Rock Island County Board voted to demolish it in 2018 , after a new courthouse was built and a Rock Island County judge declared the old building to be "a real and present danger"
However, local historic preservationists have been fighting against the demolition and the building still stands...for now, due to the efforts of concerned citizens
As a citizen currently living across the river in Iowa, I hadn't followed the story too closely, but once I did become more aware of it, it piqued my interest and I decided I wanted to go and photograph it, while I still can.
Here are some of the images I captured.
The following images were taken right before sunset on February 11, 2023 with my DJI Mavic Pro 2 drone. I was only swooped at once by a bald eagle, which I consider a win.
For the rest, I rented a fancy zoom lens from a local camera shop, to try and capture some of the smaller details.
Photographing this building made me feel sad.
On one hand, I think we let way too many beautiful historical buildings go to waste, uncared for until they are at the point of disrepair, and that it is an absolute shame to not step in to try to rehabilitate, and reuse them.
On the other hand, I can understand the county needing a newer, more efficient location, and can understand them not wanting to---or simply having the funds to---maintain a location that would need extensive remodeling to bring up to working standards, and a building that would be incredibly expensive to maintain on a regular basis.
On the other hand, I've heard that developers have reached out with offers to buy the building, and the county has been unresponsive to those offers.
On the other hand, I understand the county perhaps not wanting to sell the building, and land, when it is literally almost on top of their current, new location.
I don't know, how many hands am I at right now?
Issues are rarely black and white, and there are credible arguments to be made on both sides. It's not an easy situation with any perfect answer.
I'd like to see the courthouse saved and reused, in some sort of way that would help bring people to downtown Rock Island. Rock Island is such a beautiful, historic, old river town and I wish more people would see it for the incredible place that it is.
If it does end up being destroyed, I truly hope it isn't replaced with "greenspace", aka, a lawn. The last thing we need to be adding to the downtown, or any place, is more grass and lawns. Perhaps some sort of native plant garden could be installed, a lovely place where people could be married, to honor some of the history of being the place where happy couples went for decades to get their marriage licenses.