Save the Tabernacle Inc Gets Another Step Closer

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Nine steering committee members of Save the Tabernacle Inc. breathed a big collective sigh of relief when their desire to repair, rehab and reopen the Oakdale Tabernacle got another step closer to happening. The Freeport Park Board Commissioners agreed to send the Tabernacle proposal, last night, to the Park District Attorneys. Next, the attorneys, Ron Schneider, the Park Administrator, and spokesman for the Save the Tabernacle group will now start hammering out the details. When the lease is completed, sometime in the future, it will then be presented to the Board and voted on. Joe Kanosky, a Save the Tabernacle steering committee member said in an email he sent out to the rest of the members, “I have no idea how long this might take but it is progress, so rejoice that we are onto the next phase of our quest”. 

Photo by Jody Coss, February, 2020

The fight to save the Tabernacle began in earnest this past January 2020, when the Park Commissioners voted to make the Tabernacle surplus property and later awarded the demolition contract to Fischer Excavating. These actions created a huge outcry from our community. When the Commissioners were notified by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, that the $400K matching Oslad Grant previously awarded to the Park District might be held up, the Commissioners pulled the Fischer contract and have been working with the Save the Tabernacle group ever since.

The 105 yo Oakdale Tabernacle is the oldest building owned by the Freeport Park District. It has been closed to the public since 2014. Landmarks Illinois recognized the Tabernacle in 2018 on their Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois. Three Tabernacles were recognized at that time, the Waldorf in Des Plaines, the Chautauqua Auditorium in Shelbyville, and the Oakdale Tabernacle in Freeport. The Des Plaines Tabernacle is in the worst shape and there are no groups currently working to save it that we are aware of. The Chautauqua Auditorium, a 20-sided all-wood structure, recently received some life support. A Shelby County referendum on the March 2020 primary passed there and will bring much-needed revenue to the group working to save that Tabernacle. That leaves the Oakdale Tabernacle as the only Tabernacle with a steel frame standing in Illinois. It is also in the best structural shape of all of them.

In 2018, Fehr Graham found the Oakdale Tabernacle to be in great shape for its age. It will need a new roof, some new siding, and extensive cleaning to get it reopened. The Save the Tabernacle Inc. group believes it can do everything for much less than the 1.3 million dollars that was once proposed in a past study. Now that they are one step closer to getting a lease with the Park District, they hope to start fundraising and looking for donations of materials soon. According to Ed Klein, a steering committee member, “this important step last night brings us closer to getting this amazing building back into use by our community. We are dedicated as a group to reopen the Tabernacle for future weddings, family receptions, corporate functions, plays, and a myriad of other uses community members have proposed to our group”. Questions and inquiries can be sent to SavetheTabernacle@gmail.com

Disclaimer – Jody Coss, the author and contributor to the Voice of Freeport, is one of the nine steering committee members for Save the Tabernacle Inc.

The Tabernacle has a long history of gatherings in Stephenson County. Photo taken by Jody Coss, Feb, 2020
Under the wood is an entire steel supporting skeleton. Photo by Jody Coss, Feb, 2020
The very top of the cupola. Photo by Jody Coss, Feb, 2020
Photo by Jody Coss, Feb, 2020
The Tabernacle is an eight sided building, located at Oakdale Nature Preserve. Photo by Jody Coss, Feb, 2020

Jody Coss has been a registered nurse for 20 years, a small business owner, and a local professional photographer for 21 years. While continuing her studio work, she has also become a community organizer. She is most passionate about transforming our national health system into a system that is fair and equitable for all. She’s a Board member of Illinois Single-Payer Coalition, and on the Steering committee of HOPE, Health Over Profits for Everyone. She loves her two rescue pit bull mix dogs, which are by her side every day and grew up a horse nut.