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A six-figure grant will help to restore historic Peoria Women’s Club building

The Peoria Women's Club building
Peoria Women's Club
The Peoria Women's Club building

The Peoria Women’s Club has been in their own clubhouse for over 130 years, and a government gift will help them upgrade it.

The National Park Service awarded the club a $750,000 grant on Wednesday to restore the historic building, part of $5 million the agency gave out as part of the Historic Preservation Fund’s History of Equal Rights grant program. The money will go toward the PWC’s $4 million restoration project.

The club has been in the building on the corner of Madison Avenue and Fayette Street since it was built in 1893, making them the second-oldest women’s club in the U.S. with their own building. The clubhouse has kept its original, unaltered look since its construction, and president Kim Mitchell is happy it can stay that way.

“We were super excited,” Mitchell said. “We as the board of directors worked so hard on this project. Words can’t express how happy and excited we were. We’re just over the moon.”

Over the past 30 years, the building has needed crucial updates to keep it up to code, especially in areas like electrical and HVAC. This grant will fix those and bring A/C and heat upstairs for the first time in 50 years, as well as adding more protection for fires through a potential new sprinkler system.

The club’s building director, Vicki Hordesky, says the mechanical upgrades will pay dividends for the future of the site.

“It’s a huge leap forward for us to get this mechanical work completed that no one will ever see but just gives us the foundation to move on with the remainder of our plan,” Hordesky said.

Fixing the mechanical side allows the club to focus on the rest of their restoration project, which began three years ago. As head of the restoration committee, Hordesky says the club first focused on keeping the inside of the building dry by fixing the roof, tuckpointing and the windows.

With that project completed in August of 2022, fixing the behind-the-scenes work is next. This will allow the club to move forward with their community work, which starts with renovating their kitchen to be shared by women-owned businesses looking for a safe place to prep.

“We cannot update our kitchen until we get our electrical upgraded to today’s standards,” Hordesky said.

“The kitchen will allow us to do some more work in the community and expand some of the community things that we’re working on right now. That’s key for us.”

Eventually, the goal is to restore and reopen the club’s second floor music hall, which is the oldest in Peoria but has been closed since a fire broke out in 1970. Mitchell says the grant puts them about halfway to their overall $4 million goal.

“We just need to raise another two million and we will be up in that theater, listening to concerts, performances, corporate presentations and having a grand time,” Mitchell said.

The grant program focuses on preserving sites with ties to equal rights movements in America, which the Peoria Women’s Club falls under. The club was a key player in the women’s suffrage movement in the 1910s, leading the Peoria Equal Suffrage Association and conducting women’s voter education classes. One member even helped lobby for equal voting rights at the White House in 1913.

The process of acquiring the grant started in the summer of 2022, when the club wrote a proposal but missed the deadline for that year. Being a part of the Northside Historic District, the club had the necessary qualifications and were awarded the full amount they requested, following some daily emails from Mitchell.

Along with the Women’s Club, grants were given to sites significant to the equal rights of Hispanic and African Americans, laborers and the LGBTQ+ community. The money was dished out to eight projects across six states.

You can support the PWC’s restoration project bysponsoring a seat or a window, or by making a general donation. The club has also partnered with Cafe Santa Rosa on a Peoria Women’s Club coffee, with $10 of every purchase going towards the kitchen renovation.

Mason Klemm is a reporting intern for WCBU. He is studying sports communication at Bradley University and is expected to graduate in May 2024.