Black Hawk State Historic Site to close in Rock Island

*I’m so sad about this…it is a favourite childhood memory. Sigh…everything is disappearing.*

The John Hauberg Indian Museum is the only facility in the country that tells the history of what was once Illinois’ largest city and capital of the Sauk Nation.

Housed in Black Hawk State Historic Site’s Watch Tower Lodge in Rock Island, it sits within a half-mile of that ghost town’s western edge.

This weekend may give general visitors to the museum a last look at the lives of the Sauk (Sac) and Mesquaki (Fox) Indians in the city of Saukenuk — and even a plaster cast of the head of their leader, Black Hawk. It might be the final peek visitors to the historic site get at most facilities here even though the park itself will remain open.

At least that is how things appear right now.

“We keep hoping for a reprieve. Maybe the Legislature can find a way yet,” said Janet Moline, chairwoman of the Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Park.

Victim of budget cuts

Illinois’ elimination of financial support for state historic site personnel has played out for five months. All but four state parks have been spared, but not historic sites. Cuts — which have meant closure for some sites — were threatened on Oct. 1, then Oct. 15.

As of Monday, Black Hawk State Historic Site is slated to lose half of its paid staff of four. Lack of staffing and maintenance effectively means doors will close to the John Hauberg Indian Museum, the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum and Singing Bird Lodge.

“The heat and air conditioning will be on, but the doors are closed except for groups already booked,” Moline said. “(The citizens foundation) pays for a naturalist for groups.”

What will remain available at Black Hawk are the park’s trails and picnic shelters. A popular place for wedding receptions, the Black Hawk Room in Watch Tower Lodge, will be available for rental.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed a bill that would have provided $2.4 million to keep state historic sites staffed.

“I don’t understand what this governor did. It’s a bunch of baloney,” Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, said.

Verschoore said historic site employee salaries are not a big burden to the state. “These sites are pretty much (financially) self-sufficient. What else can you say that about?”

Thanks to private grants to Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Park, a display about who the Sauk and Mesquaki were, when and how they arrived here and left, will open at the Hauberg Indian Museum on May 9 next year.

“There will be a grand opening,” Moline said.

Site supervisor Beth Carvey added, “Even though we’re in crisis mode, we’re still moving forward.”

Moline is glad grants keep programming afloat, but the state’s actions disappoint her.

“It’s the state’s responsibility — not private groups or citizens — to make the history of Saukenuk available.”

Efforts to stay open

Lack of interest was not the reason funding was suspended.

Black Hawk State Historic Site Supervisor Scott Roman said the facilities draw between 140,000 to 150,000 visitors per year.

In September 2008, Carvey said, 1,200 school children visited the Hauberg Indian Museum.

In 2007, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism named Black Hawk State Historic Site one of the “7 Wonders of Illinois.”

Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, said public support has been strong.

“I have received well over a thousand letters, e-mails and phone calls,” he said. “We have received some for the Hennepin Canal and Bishop Hill, but Black Hawk park has inspired the most response, by far.”

Petitions have been another form of support. Signers and those circulating the petitions included Native American Coalition of the Quad-Cities members, who meet at Singing Bird Lodge.

Regina Tsosie, the coalition’s president, said, “We’ve been concerned about the closures since summer. I guess it’s finally happening, and it’s sad.”

Tsosie, who is also a member of Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Park, noted that President George W. Bush has named November as National American Indian Heritage Month.

“The timing is ironic. How can we celebrate? Being a Native American, I feel (the closures at Black Hawk) put a dark cloud over our history, especially for the Sauk and Mesquaki people.”


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