History of the
Gaylord Building

The Gaylord Building has been a central part of Lockport and a landmark along the Illinois & Michigan Canal for 170 years. Situated along the northern edge of the Public Landing, the Gaylord Building reflects the canal’s early importance to Illinois. Its many tenants and uses exemplify Lockport’s commercial significance throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. For over thirty years since its rehabilitation in the 1980s, the structure’s pivotal role reaches across America, as a national example of adaptive reuse that is redefining how historic structures can be saved and interpreted in the United States.

Lockport and the I&M Canal

The importance of Lockport and its Public Landing are rooted in the construction and operation of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Lockport became master of the waterway in 1836 when the Canal Commissioners decided to headquarter canal operations at a central location along the canal. This move led surveyors to stake out a town plat where Lockport now stands, fixed by the necessity for locks where the topography dropped forty feet in elevation southwest of Chicago. The Commissioners selected a site that provided access to the canal as a whole, but was not too distant from the expected metropolis at Chicago. They also placed their headquarters at a location that promised waterpower to attract industry.

With the opening of the canal in 1848, Lockport entered upon a golden age. The I & M Canal Commissioners administered the canal’s operations, keeping track of the bustling activity along the entire canal. Some local businessmen flourished by diverting water from the canal to operate machinery. The fortunes created by the canal mostly favored other places like Chicago and Joliet, but Lockport benefited greatly from the trade generated.

Canal Construction

On the 4th of July, 1836, workers began construction of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Little headway was made during the first two years, however. The major problem was a lack of supplies and manpower, most of which had to be brought from the East Coast. Lockport had no building large enough to accommodate the steady stream of materials coming into the community. The Canal Commissioners decided to erect a stone warehouse to meet their construction needs.

The proposal met with opposition as some considered it a waste of state funds. The Commissioners argued that the building was necessary as a construction depot for the large amount of equipment and supplies. They believed it would later serve as an anchor for Lockport’s commercial district, which would be centered around the canal’s Public Landing.

  • The Canal Warehouse Acting Canal Commissioner Jacob Fry supervised the building of the stone warehouse. The specifications called for a sizable 90 by 32 foot structure made of limestone and framed with heavy timbers. Laborers began work in May of 1838 and completed the two-story structure by September of that year at a total cost of $4,014.29. It is the oldest industrial building to survive along the canal’s route.From 1838 to 1848, contractors and laborers utilized the building as a warehouse for the canal’s construction. Stored items included black powder, chains, cranes, shovels, picks, wheelbarrows, lumber, ropes, iron and steel for making tools and machinery, and food provisions for the workmen.
  • Townsend & Martin Illinoisans marked the opening of the canal in 1848 with a public celebration in Chicago. The Canal Commissioners had no further need for the building and weighed its future. In the meantime, the firm of Norton & Blackstone briefly rented the warehouse and made thorough repairs to it. In September of 1848, the firm of Townsend & Martin, a partnership of Jane & Daniel Townsend and Col. George B. Martin, purchased the building for $4,000. The firm used the building as a warehouse for the grain trade.Making several modifications to the stone structure, Townsend & Martin cut large arched doorways on each side of the building. These allowed wagons to enter for loading and unloading. The firm built a Greek Revival addition along the canal. In 1851, it also added grain elevators north of the building.

    In November of 1853, the firm of Townsend & Martin dissolved their partnership. Col. George B. Martin, however, soon acquired full ownership of the building. As Will County population and personal wealth increased, area residents sought more luxurious merchandise beyond the staples of life. Lockport entrepreneurs like Col. Martin endeavored to provide those products. He expanded both his business operations and the structure. In 1859, he hired Julius Scheibe, a German immigrant and master stone mason, to construct the three-story, Italianate stone addition on the east side of the original warehouse. Due to space limitations, a portion of the original structure had to be removed for the 24 by 92 foot addition. Martin used the sizable new structure as his office and a general store. He continued to operate the older warehouse section as part of his grain-related activities. In spite of his efforts, Col. Martin declared bankruptcy in 1878.

  • Gaylord & Company Prominent Lockport merchant George Gaylord purchased the building on September 28, 1878 for $5,640. Gaylord relocated his existing dry goods store and grain business located on State Street to the building. He made no significant structural changes to the building except possibly a partial enclosure of the Greek Revival porch fronting the canal, and the addition of a small frame structure on the north end of the dry goods store.Gaylord’s tenure in the building was successful albeit brief. At some point, Gaylord contracted the most dreaded of all 19th century diseases – tuberculosis – and died on October 1, 1883, at the age of 63.
  • Norton & Company Over the next century the building’s function changed several times. John L. Norton of Norton & Company bought the building from Gaylord’s estate in 1886 for $7,500, and again used it as a warehouse. The Norton acquisition of the building created a virtual monopoly on the grain business in Lockport through its grain facilities at the north and south ends of the Public Landing. In 1890, Norton & Company fell on hard times and sold the company’s 8th Street location.
  • Barrows Lock Although agricultural pursuits remained important in Will County, new business opportunities related to industrialization emerged in the late 19th century. Reflecting this change, Barrows Lock Company acquired the structure in 1890. Within a short time, the new owners modified the stone warehouse and surrounding structures to accommodate its industrial activities. In 1897, the company built a sizable brick structure on the west side of the Italianate addition. Furthermore, Barrows Lock erected several outbuildings to the ever enlarging edifice, including some on the Public Landing. These activities reflected the diminishing role of the canal, which no longer needed the expansive public area. In 1906, the company stacked two additional brick stories on the original stone warehouse. Within this growing complex, the Barrows Lock Company operated a brass foundry, machine shop, carpentry shop, storerooms and offices.The economic reversals associated with the Great Depression (1929-1941) contributed to the building’s decline. By 1932, Yale and Towne Manufacturing Company acquired Barrows and moved production from Lockport to Waukegan. The new owners rarely used the Lockport location and finally sold it in 1945.
  • Will County Printing and Hyland Plumbing The post-World War II economic prosperity reinvigorated the local economy. The Will County Printing Company bought the 8th Street complex in 1945. A specialty print shop briefly operated in the building until it was sold again in 1948.Over the next four decades, the Hyland Plumbing Supply Company occupied the building. Hyland, like previous owners, modified the building to meet their business needs. During its tenure, Hyland demolished a number of outbuildings, including those on the Public Landing. It also removed the entire 1848 Greek Revival addition along the canal. As a sign of the economic downturn in the 1970s, the remaining structure fell into disrepair. By the early 1980s, community members became concerned by the neglected appearance of the historically significant property.

Becoming a Historical Landmark

  • Adapting for a New Future In the early 1980s, Gaylord Donnelley, businessman and philanthropist, learned that his grandfather, George Gaylord, once owned the dilapidated but historically significant building. Donnelley soon formed the Gaylord Lockport Company with family members. They set out to renovate the building with the hope that it would spur a regional economic revitalization effort.Between 1983 and 1987, archaeologists, historians, architects, and a multitude of tradesmen rehabilitated the building. During the extensive renovation process, the Gaylord Lockport Company removed the 1906 brick addition over the original stone warehouse, as well as the other late nineteenth and twentieth century additions.

    The structure’s “new” look reflected its historic character at the time that George Gaylord owned the building. The project, however, was never considered to be a “restoration,” which would have returned the building to a specific time period as a historic building museum. Rather, the Gaylord Lockport Company chose to “adaptively reuse” the building to accommodate contemporary needs. These included the Public Landing Restaurant, the Illinois State Museum Lockport Gallery, and the Illinois Department of Conservation Visitor’s Center.

    In recognition of the company’s efforts, Gaylord Donnelley received the President’s Historic Preservation Award from Ronald Reagan in 1988. President Reagan recognized the extensive planning and high-quality workmanship that went into rehabilitating the Gaylord Building. As a result, the Gaylord Building became a national symbol for adaptive re-use.

  • The First Heritage Corridor Gaylord Donnelley wanted to utilize the Gaylord Building as a catalyst for revitalization of Lockport’s historic downtown and the creation of a “heritage area.” He hoped to spark further preservation efforts in other canal communities to enhance economic development.At the same time, a new approach to preservation and community revitalization emerged along the route of the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal, resulting in the creation of the first heritage corridor. Through concerted efforts from individuals in communities from Chicago to LaSalle-Peru, Congress passed legislation that President Ronald Reagan signed into law on August 24, 1984, establishing the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. A model for the explicit marriage of preservation, conservation and economic development, this pioneering, grassroots effort has been the model for more than forty other heritage areas established by Congress throughout the United States.
  • National & Regional Partners In 1996, Dorothy Donnelley, Gaylord’s widow, donated the Gaylord Building and an endowment to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Founded in 1949, the National Trust provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to protect the irreplaceable places that tell America’s story. As a private, non-profit organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America’s communities, the National Trust accepted the Gaylord Building as its first commercial structure and its first site with an adaptive reuse mission. It also provided the organization with an anchor in the nation’s first heritage area. The Gaylord Building is a shining example of adaptive reuse that is showcased along with the twenty-six other sites of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
  • Planning for the Future The Gaylord Building Historic Site Board of Directors and staff continue the work of Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley by advocating for the continued vitality for the historic site within the National Heritage Area. The Gaylord Building continues to be at the heart of the local and regional economy. Since the days of canal operation through the creation of I & M Canal National Heritage Area, the building has been a touchstone.The Gaylord Building stands as an inspiration and a model of adaptive reuse.
Modern Use
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