Each year, Landmarks Illinois honors nine outstanding examples of excellence in Illinois historic preservation with the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards, which aim to inspire others to take action to preserve, protect and promote historic resources. This Saturday at a gala in Chicago, DSI’s Immediate Past President Karen Conn and her partner in life & preservation, Court Conn, will receive the prestigious Leadership Award, recognizing their two decades of major preservation projects and revitalization successes in downtown Springfield through Conn’s Hospitality Group (CHG).
Since 1995, the Conns have rehabilitated four historic buildings in the Downtown District, starting with the Inn at 835 on Second Street. The 1909 apartment building listed on the National Register of Historic Places was converted into a bed and breakfast and then expanded into a conference center.
In 2007, Court and Karen purchased property that was at one time owned by Court’s great-great grandparents, Obed Lewis and Cordelia Iles, at Seventh and Jackson. The Lewis-Iles children were contemporaries of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln’s sons.
Ultimately, the couple made the difficult decision to raze the muddled family home in an effort to preserve another Lincoln-era structure. The Isaac Lindsey house, also known as the Lindsey-Maisenbacher Home, was famously moved down Seventh Street, six blocks to its present location at Seventh and Jackson. The Conns originally planned to turn this building into Springfield’s first microbrewery, but it became apparent the building was not suited.
So the Conns renovated the once-prominent 1860s mansion of the Booth-Grundendike family at Sixth and Jackson Street (on the same block) and opened it as Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery in February 2012, with Court’s sons Adam and Casey. Obed Lewis’ carriage house became the brewery and one of downtown’s most popular outdoor patios with bocce ball court was born. (A few years ago, someone from Peoria enjoyed their time at Obed and Isaac’s so much that they approached the Conns about opening a second location, which the family just did in an historic church in Peoria.)
Abraham Lincoln himself reportedly lent Lindsey $650 to build the home which the Conns had moved and saved. Lindsey’s home was too small for a brewery but just right for a coffee house and café. Wm. Van’s Coffee, celebrating its third anniversary this winter, offers specially roasted coffee and specialty coffee drinks, fresh baked pastries, and grab-and-go meals and has become a favorite hangout for entrepreneurs and their laptops.
Fruits and vegetables raised on the Conn family farm in Virginia, Illinois provide fresh, natural, local produce for all three venues.
The most recent revitalization occurred in a vacant 1960s-era commercial building at 7th and Monroe. The Conns acquired Widow at Windsor Antiques, and relaunched it as The Merchant House. The retail store features European antiques and contemporary furnishings.
Congratulations Court and Karen, and thank you for your commitment to downtown revitalization and providing modern uses for Springfield’s unique, precious historic structures! Thank you also for many years of supporting the downtown district with your investments, your time, your counsel and your leadership.