It may not be the most original way to open an article, but it's true nonetheless: Bill Scales is a man on a mission. And a man with vision. And a man who loves history, besides.
With a background in real estate and building, he set his eye on restoring the Eagle Hotel, located in Wilmington, Ill. As Scales tells the story on the hotel's Web site, the Eagle was constructed circa 1836, the same year in which Wilmington was founded. Originally, the building contained a limestone warehouse in addition to the hotel. Both catered to customers of the sawmills and gristmills located on the Kankakee River, as well as travelers passing through on riverboat or stagecoach lines. Ensuing years saw the Eagle serving the community as a tavern, and, after its charter in 1863, as the original site for the First National Bank of Wilmington. Sometime later, the warehouse and storefront spaces were opened to accommodate larger business concerns, including a restaurant and mercantile store.
Sadly, according to Scales, by the end of the 20th century, the Eagle's fortunes had been reversed. Years of insufficient funding, combined with a devastating fire in 1990 that heavily damaged a significant portion of the building, had left the structure with a leaky roof and crumbling walls. As a result, the city of Wilmington was considering demolition.
Yet the Eagle's foundation walls were still sound and many of its key architectural features (including the original balustrade) were intact. In the spring of 2001, Scales stepped in as developer and was eventually successful in placing the Eagle on the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect historic and archeological resources. Properties listed in the register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture.
Scales firmly believes that the Eagle is a vital piece of the region's history. "It dates back to the time the area was part of what was then known as the Northwest Territory," he notes. "It's also the oldest hotel on all of Route 66." He feels that the most obvious and best use for the property is to return it to its place as a lodging and dining establishment. First, and foremost, however, Scales had to save the Eagle from what he refers to as, "the nasty bite of the bulldozer's blade." He began by acquiring working capital to be used once the inn and restaurant are opened; completed negotiations with the city of Wilmington; and then worked to procure the funding required to complete the physical rehabilitation of the property. Scales estimates that the refurbishing of the 7,000-square-foot (when complete) building will be about $1 million.
Once initial funding was in place, the first order of business was, of course, a new roof, which would protect the rest of his investment. In the beginning, Scales' efforts were fruitless, with several calls to roofing manufacturers not returned. His luck changed when he got in touch with Richard Guzion of Richards Building Supply, Chicago, a distributor of building products to Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana. According to Scales, as soon as Guzion heard about the project, he was on board. He also referred Scales to Kory Brown, a sales representative at IKO Manufacturing.
Scales repeatedly emphasizes that both he and the project owe a deep debt to Richards and IKO. "Both stepped up to help preserve this important building where others would not," Scales says. He has especially high praises for Guzion, who not only committed his company, but also his own personal services to the project: "Both organizations showed themselves as true captains of industry by giving something back to the community."
According to Carol Perkins, director of marketing for IKO, the company got involved because of the Eagle's historical significance. In addition, "We have several plants in the area and we support our local communities."
The materials that Scales received far exceeded his hopes. All of the building products came from Richards, except for the shingles and underlayment donated by IKO. The Eagle now has Cambridge 50 AR shingles and Armourgard ice and water protector. Cambridge is a premium fiberglass asphalt shingle with a laminated architectural design. The shingles are built with double-layer construction and a tough, modified sealant for tear strength and resistance to high winds. Their larger, architectural design dimensions and blended shadow bands provide the appearance of a classic wood shake.
According to Scales, once IKO and Richards were on board, a difficult project was infused with positive energy and moved forward with new determination. Several challenges still lay ahead, however. "Historic preservation/restoration is fraught with difficulty," Scales comments. "I didn't know what I was getting into! You have to adhere to strict guidelines - I had to jump through hoops to get approval to use a ridge vent system on the roof."
Scales did the roof himself and can attest to the quality of the Cambridge AR50 shingles. In November 2003, a, huge snow storm hit the area, but while roofers around him were picking up the pieces, Scales reports that on the Eagle, not one tab was lifted by the wind. And overall, both the shingle and the underlayment went down beautifully.
Nonetheless, the job itself was a big challenge. Every roof that had ever been installed on the building - including the original one from 1836 - was still there. The layers were more than 5 inches thick. The original roof was resawn shakes over random width and length oak planks. The planks averaged 16 to 18 feet long and were about 16 inches wide. Scales says he and his crew removed 28,000 pounds of material, filling two large dumpsters. Underneath the roofs, everything was rotted, and the crew had to take out all the bellies, bows and rods. "It could have been a $7,000 job but it was $20,000," he says.
Scales himself was up on the roof every day for two weeks, making sure the job was done right. The result is a beautiful, watertight roof that Scales attributes to the quality of the Cambridge shingles: "This is the first time in 15 years that the building hasn't leaked. It's as dry as can be." Now with a sound roof, Scales can turn his attention to the inside restoration as well as the installation of every major system: plumbing, gas and electrical.
In addition to the physical work, Sales also has had to fight anti-development forces in town. At one point he was hauled off to jail for ignoring a stop-work order. The entire project has cost him three years of his life. Yet perseverance worked in this case, and the hotel is on track to open later this year. In its new incarnation, the Historic Eagle Inn & Restaurant will feature 10 guest rooms, each with private bath, as well as a reading room and common area, a stone-walled meeting room with the original cooking hearth and crane preserved, and a garden courtyard. The facilities will also feature a restaurant and bar. Scales hopes to achieve an "upscale yet unpretentious" ambiance.
"The building will still be standing a hundred years from now," says Scales. And thanks to the generosity of IKO and Richards Building Supply, "People will be able to experience what the building was like in 1836."