CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Dozens gathered to watch an 19th century home come tumbling to the ground. Crews started demolishing the Burnham Mansion about 9:45 am, Tuesday.
It’s been in town since 1884. People on both sides gathered to watch the demolition; those who wanted to preserve the past and those who were hopeful for the future.
As the wrecking ball pounded into the mansion, the sights and sounds drew a crowd. They watched a home, which has been around for more than a century, come crashing to the ground in a matter of hours.
“Things got to go. Things got to grow.”
Melvin Voss graduated from Champaign High School, now known as Central, in 1959. He’s seen a lot of changes come through town over the years. For him, this one is bittersweet.
“I’m glad they were able to take a lot of the valuable wood and stuff out of it and the steel fence that was along the front of it. At least they salvaged some of it.”
While he’s seeing the bright side, others, like Carol Stanek, say watching the demolition is hard.
“It is definitely surreal. It is beyond disgraceful. It is beyond any of our wildest imaginations.”
She says the buyer, Chris Enck, had an unreasonably short amount of time to try to move the mansion and believes more could have been done to save it.
“And now, we have this atrocity which, it’s going to leave a mark on Champaign. I hope the school board realizes their legacy is destroying this home that sits on the National Historic stage.”
But, others say taking out this piece of the past is making a much bigger investment in the future and, it was only a matter of time.
“Whether it’s today, or whether it’s in 50-years, that building is not permanent. Why not take the money that somebody would have put into keeping it up and keeping the grounds and maintaining it, why not put that money into the needs we have now?”
The project is just one step on the road to renovating and expanding Central High School. It’s what many in the community have wanted to see for years.
Several years ago, the Unit #4 School District asked voters how Central should be redone. They say voters responded loud and clear to “Keep Central central.”
In November, 2016, voters passed a referendum to expand and improve the school at its current site in the heart of Champaign. It comes at the cost of several historic properties, including the Burnham Mansion.
For months, people rallied to save it. Then a buyer named Chris Enck came forward to try to move the home down the block. When the deal fell through at the last minute, the district said they had to move forward.
Burnham fell in the first phase of the renovation project which is to build a new gymnasium and parking lot around it.