Some two dozen hardy citizens bravely thumbed their noses at soaring heat and oppressive humidity to gather at the bison statue on the Monroe County Courthouse lawn Saturday morning.
They came to celebrate completion of Phase II of the Friends of the Courthouse Bison project and hear about the more than 50 supporters who made the project possible.
Project leader Jim Hill told how the project got started when Col. Edd Kueker and his wife Violette donated their collection of more than 4,000 historic artifacts to be placed in a county museum when such a facility would be built.
One of the iconic items was the bison statue that today highlights the northwest corner of the courthouse grounds. Kueker insisted it should be at the courthouse, and he eventually prevailed. He was strongly supported by county commissioner Delbert Wittenauer, who worked with George Hick to get the brick base built on which the bison statue sits. The base’s heritage is also part of the community history and agricultural heritage, as it was made of brick Kueker salvaged from the Mon-Clair elevator structure when it was torn down.
The base contains the county’s history, as it houses a time capsule to be opened in 2066, on the county’s 250th anniversary.
In March 2017, Hill and others came before the county board to ask for permission to add the second phase to the project. It would consist of a historically accurate metal fence, like that around the fountain on the ground’s opposite corner, and installation of a variety of grasses and other plants native to the area. It was to be totally funded by donations.
Hill noted that some of the plants may have to be replaced due to extreme weather this year.
“But by this time next year we fully expect the fenced area to be filled with a ‘native prairie’ of bright colors and foliage,” he said.
Hill told how the bison had roamed the region centuries ago and their feeding trail became a pathway for Native Americans traveling the bluff, and later for settlers, at which point it became the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail. Still later, it became Route 3.
“It’s a great addition to Monroe County and its rich history,” Commissioner Vicki Koerber said.
Thousands of dollars and several valuable in-kind services brought the project to fruition, Hill said. All of the businesses, groups, service organizations and individuals were recognized by name on Saturday.
The bison statue attracts many visitors, and a bronze plaque in front of it tells a wonderful story in Col. Kueker’s own words.