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Back You are here: Home History History News Local History Molly Crusen Bishop: The GAR Hall is a downtown historical gem

Molly Crusen Bishop: The GAR Hall is a downtown historical gem

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The Greenhut Memorial GAR Hall is located at 416 Hamilton Boulevard in Peoria. I attended Spalding High School in downtown Peoria in the late 1980s and spent my days walking to and fro across the two large buildings and center space.

Rain or shine or snow, I remember walking in my lovely plaid uniform, always rolled, and even sometimes stapled at the bottom, should the hem come out. It seems we walked back and forth all day long, and up and down so many flights of stairs. Stairs in the Academy, stairs in the Spalding side. We would run our miles during the nicer weather for gym class. We would run around the Scottish Rites Cathedral, beautiful old mansions, and back to school again. I was surrounded by both family history, and rich, deep local history.

Located directly across the street was the Cornerstone building, and then there was Saint Mary’s Cathedral a block’s walk down the other way. There was a historical building at the back of the cathedral called St. Mary’s Parish Hall, just bulldozed in January. 

I took the city bus home daily and would often miss one and have to wait a little bit for the next. I would walk around all of the old buildings around downtown. My mom, Joani Crusen, worked at the Courthouse so that was definitely on my walking path, as well.

I remember the fountain in Fulton Plaza and the strange drugstore that felt like it came straight out of a 1957 time warp and it didn’t quite realize that it didn’t really belong anymore. I remember sympathizing with the poor little drugstore. I even went inside a few times. It wasn’t wanted or needed anymore, but nobody had the heart to break the news to it.

The scent from the Illinois River was fresh daily, with the occasional shift of wind from some of the industrial plants located further up the way.

I also distinctly remember the building with the cannons in front with the beautiful stained-glass windows. Now fast forward a few decades and I have a brand new experience with the cannon building.

Someone finally got around to telling the drugstore the dreaded news and it, as well as the Fulton fountain, was replaced. Memories of the walks around the drugstore faded, and the memories of the Fulton Plaza became faded stories I would occasionally share with my children over the years.

I have always enjoyed history, but as I have grown older, I realize the strength and meaning behind it mean a lot more. Sometimes, though, if the bones are good and solid and strong, there are many ways to repurpose some of the old into something new to us again.  Reducing, reusing, and recycling are one of the best lessons from the past we could all use a little more of, in my opinion.

I am very happy indeed that a kind and very smart man named Les Kenyon, a local architect, was of that particular mindset, for he saved the building with the cannons from being turned into a parking lot in the 1970s. The Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation was formed to secure the saving of the hall, and it became an organization that helps save and recognize and mark other historic buildings in the region. It is a non-profit organization “dedicated to preserving historic and cultural landmarks that give Central Illinois its unique character.”  Now that I am an adult, I have that mindset as well. What is made strong and solid and unique, should be kept strong and solid and unique, and incorporated into modern uses today whenever possible.

The building with the cannons in front with the stained glass windows has a whole new life to me. The Greenhut Memorial Grand Army of the Republic Hall is the proper title for the building I knew as a teen roaming around Spalding waiting for the bus as the cannon building with the stained glass windows.  Here is my introduction to the Peoria’s grand historic hall at 416 Hamilton Boulevard.

I approached the building not knowing what to expect inside. I walked in the green double-doors and saw a beautiful wooden staircase. I peered back over my shoulder and looked up into the beautiful rays of light and color overhead. The stained glass at the top of the entryway is nothing short of breathtaking. I had noticed the words Greenhut Memorial at the top of the outside of the building, but I held onto my inquiry for a while as I was shown some amazing things of both local and national historic importance throughout the building. 

The top of the staircase holds a sculpture done by the famed Frederick Triebel, who also did the Soldiers and Sailors Monument outside of the Peoria County Courthouse. I looked up to the wall on my left and saw a portrait of a nice looking man with the most spectacular mustache I had ever seen. Over to my right and up the wall I saw his equally lovely wife. Joseph Benedict Greenhut and Clara Wolfner Greenhut, benefactors of the Greenhut Memorial GAR Hall, dedicated their time and money in Peoria, Illinois, in 1909, to a building dedicated to the veterans of the Civil War. He served in the 12th Illinois infantry, and later the 82nd Illinois infantry.

Colonel Joseph Greenhut fought in many famous battles, including the Battles of Gettysburg and Chattanooga, and he served with honor and distinction. He was born in Austria and came to America with his parents when he was a boy. He and Clara lived in Peoria, and built one of the largest and finest homes in all of Peoria. Their home will be featured in this series on the Greenhut Memorial GAR Hall.  Joseph formed the Great Western Distillery and became one of the most successful and wealthiest men in the United States.

I am fortunate now to get to share in my passion for history, especially the Civil War, and for Peoria by being the new rental manager for this beautiful hall in downtown Peoria. I am happy every time I walk into the building and I get to take others on tours and share the rich history I only recently learned about the hall.

We are available for weddings, receptions, banquets, luncheons, lectures, music, art, and anytime there is a need for our venue. It is handicapped accessible and has many updated features that work well, blending the beautiful wood and stained glass of old. 

We participate with the C.I.A.O. and host the spectacular First Fridays held throughout Peoria on the first Friday of every month, celebrating Peoria’s local artists and musicians. This Friday, April 1, we are open 5 to 9 p.m. and will host artists, authors and photographers. Entertainment will include acoustic musicians Chase Sieting of Through The I, Shannon Moore Shepherd and Sophia Lair.

Please email me at garhallrental@gmail.com or call 857-6844 to set up your tour to discover part of our city’s history. Once we know and love our history, it is difficult not to be its steward.

There are many historical and special buildings still left downtown that need new life. Let’s keep their unique qualities and build from their strength from the past, and revitalize them into something even better!  

About the Author
Molly is a life-long Peorian and an author, speaker, and storyteller. She is married to Doug Bishop and has five children and one grandchild. Molly loves history and Peoria and loves to share her passions with anyone she can get to listen to her. She loves to research, interview, and write or speak about history. The youngest and ninth child of Don and Joani Crusen, she grew up on the West Bluff in the house her great grandparents built in the 1880s. She writes a historical column in Woman’s View magazine, and will be writing a column called The Peorian Perspective in The Peorian.