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The Old McHenry County Courthouse, the majestic anchor of the bustling Historic Woodstock Square, was designed by John Mills Van Osdel, chief architect of the Palmer House in Chicago, and erected in 1857. Located in the exact center of McHenry County, the building was joined by the accompanying Sheriff’s House & Jail in 1887, and issued landmark status by the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. For over a century, the Old Courthouse served thousands of residents from throughout McHenry County until a new government center was built in 1972. Local residents purchased the historic buildings in 1973 and established an art gallery, studios, restaurant and museum space, including the former Chester Gould/Dick Tracy Museum.
By 2011 it was clear the building’s long-term maintenance, and growing repair and restoration needs, were cost-prohibitive for private ownership to continue, and the buildings were transferred to the City of Woodstock. A professional assessment of the buildings’ condition was conducted by historic preservation architect, Gary W. Anderson Architects, and an outline of essential repairs, and estimated costs, was provided to the City Council, City Planner and Historic Preservation Commission. During the next 4 years, the City invested over $1 million in a new roof, dome, stairs and structural repairs, cleaned and stabilized the buildings. Current estimates on remaining work required to ensure building safety and security, and to further effect desired build-out for future tenants, range from $5-7 million. The City distributed a Request for Proposals (RFP) in 2014 to determine potential buyers for the property. Only two proposals were submitted in the timeframe identified and Woodstock City Council did not feel either proposal provided optimum benefits for the community.
Old Courthouse Now:
At present, the entire lower level of the building is occupied by one of Woodstock’s finest restaurants, Woodstock Public House. While much of the upper floor requires renovation and public access is limited, the Old Courthouse Arts Center gallery space is in use and managed by Northwest Area Arts Council, a volunteer arts agency that showcases this area’s abundant artistic talent through a continuous series of public exhibitions offered at no charge to the public, as well as a sales shop with custom jewelry, pottery, and artworks.
The City has appointed the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House Advisory Commission and public meetings are held in City Council chambers on the third Monday of the month at 7:00pm. The Commission invites and welcomes questions, comments, and suggestions from members of the public. They also encourage your input by completing this quick & easy Old Courthouse & Sheriff’s House Future Use Survey !
In response to strong interest from the community, Friends of the Old Courthouse, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, has formed, to increase awareness of the historical significance of the buildings and raise funds to further their restoration. The Friends are actively soliciting donations of any size for their “Windows to our History” campaign to help fund the restoration or replacement of the building’s historic windows. All donations made to Friends of the Old Courthouse are tax-deductible to the extent legally allowed.