Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's Really Scary in Joliet, Illinois

While searching for "Joliet" in the YouTube search box, I stumbled upon this video by a group called the Illinois Paranormal Research Association:

As explained in the video, the group is investigating paranormal activity at the Hiram B. Scutt Mansion, located at 206 Broadway in Joliet, Illinois.

According to the City of Joliet's Historic Preservation website:

"The Hiram B. Scutt Mansion is a west-facing, three-story, red brick, Second Empire/Italianate style structure built circa 1882 on a Joliet  limestone foundation. The Mansion was designed by architect James Weese for Hiram Scutt, a prominent Joliet businessman who was President of Citizens Electric Company and held numerous early patents on barbed wire.  The mansion thus became known as "Barb Villa". The structure is dominated by a 3½ story protruding tower and is capped with a Second Empire mansard roof. A distinctive, bracketed tin cornice, interspersed with disc bosses, accents the mansard roof. The structure is a Local Landmark and individually listed on the National Register.  In later years, the home served as a residence for young women and was called the "Hannah Harwood Girl's Home"."

I'm not interested in paranormal activity and its investigation, although a quick google search surprisingly yielded a plethora of links regarding paranormal activity in Joliet.  Rather, what struck me about this video were the shots of Downtown Joliet.  From about 1:07 to 2:00, this video pans across Downtown Joliet at both an elevation and street level.  Visible are Joliet landmarks such as the Joliet Catholic Victory Light Tower and the bridges over the Des Plaines River.  The shots also show--at least this was the impression I was left with--a desolate and crumbling downtown.  There are few pedestrians, few signs of life on the street--apart from a few cars.  Maybe the video was shot very early in the morning, and that accounts for the lack of activity.  I used to drive through the same area every day, however, and while there were often some people in the streets, it was not a bustling, steady crowd; not many shops.  

As visible on the video above also, one of the newest buildings is the riverboat casino and hotel. While the hotel and casino obviously bring in revenue and create jobs, I'm not sure they are going to spark a revival downtown.  Silver Cross Field--another recent development--is also visible, but again, it is uncertain if it will spark sustained redevelopment downtown.  The Casino and ballpark are obviously different industries than the manufacturing companies that used to be based in Joliet, such as The American Steel and Wire Company, which is profiled in the 1909 Joliet in Photos:

American Steel & Wire Company 
WIRE fencing is made in Joliet of Bessemer soft steel. Between the American Steel & Wire Company and the Illinois Steel Company the whole process, from coking
the coal and smelting the ores to the finished galvanized nails and fencing is 
carried on at this point. The Scott street plant, formerly the Lambert & Bishop mill, like its twin mill at Rockdale, has been greatly enlarged year by year, 
and both are known as big plants in their classification. These are again being 
enlarged the present season. A photograph gives but a portion of any of these     plants. ^ FrankJ. Whitgrove, superintendent at Scott street. "

I have always admired many of the older buildings in Downtown Joliet, such as the Rialto and Union Station. Especially compared with the new strip malls popping up in the suburbs, the older buildings downtown are unique and beautiful.  I hope redevelopment efforts in Downtown Joliet spark demand for a reuse of many of the downtown buildings.  For me, a lifeless downtown is far more scary than paranormal activity in the Scutt Mansion.