EAST SIDE — One of Chicago’s oldest monuments could soon become an orphan — and preservationists are worried it could be destroyed by vandals or thieves.
The 174-year-old Illinois-Indiana State Boundary Marker has been watched over for decades by security guards at the nearby State Line Generating Plant, located between the Southeast Side and Hammond, Ind.
But now that the plant has changed ownership, it’s unclear who is responsible for the marker's long-term protection.
The 15-foot-tall sandstone obelisk was constructed in 1838, according to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. The marker likely was erected when Congress ordered a resurveying of the state boundary line in 1833. It has been moved several times since, and now rests just outside the generating plant.
The Landmarks Commission calles the pre-Chicago Fire monument "a significant physical reminder of early nineteenth-century efforts to survey and establish state boundaries out of the vast Northwest Territory.”
Dominion Energy owned the state line plant for years and had maintained security, but the company shut down operations earlier this year and sold the plant to Texas-based BTU Solutions.
BTU Solutions maintains that security is present on the grounds 24/7 while the plant undergoes demolition and cleanup. The company is aware of the monument’s historical value and will make sure it is not harmed during the process, said BTU Solutions CFO Jared Rossi.
But historians and landmark agencies are concerned: What will happen when the demolition process is over and there is no reason to have security on site?
“The future use of the property has not been decided,” said Rossi, who added there is no timeframe for completion of the demolition.
Rod Sellers, the director of the Southeast Chicago Historical Society, pointed out that the site's “undecided future” could mean a long-term window in which the monument goes unprotected.
“Whose responsibility is it to protect the monument when the grounds are no longer monitored?” asked Sellers.
BTI's Rossi said it sits on company property “but I’m not sure we actually own it.”
Neither the Illinois Preservation Agency nor the city Landmarks Commission, which gave the monument official historical landmark designation in Chicago in 2002, knows who owns it.
“The designation protects it from demolition and any significant alterations,” explained Pete Strazzabosco, spokesman for the Landmarks Commission. “But if it’s not Chicago-owned, we’re not responsible for providing security.”
Sellers worries that without security, “Scavengers will take it all — the brass plates and metal...It will be vulnerable to vandalism, too.”
That happened in 1988 at the monument’s former location, 190 feet south from where it stands now. An old photo hanging in the Southeast Chicago Historical Society shows evidence of graffiti and decay.
A large square brass plate was dedicated to that spot after the structure was moved to the plant’s entrance. That brass plate eventually was stolen.
Commonwealth Edison — which owned the plant then — came to the monument’s rescue. Allen J. Benson, an employee of the company, championed a deal in which Com Ed paid for the obelisk's refurbishment and rededication. The company also made sure that its security staff looked over it.
Over the years, the plant’s various owners, including Dominion Energy, kept an eye on it.
Strazzabosco said the commission or any other agency cannot enforce property owners to hire guards.