With the prospect of a completed Brookfield Avenue bridge in sight, the village of Brookfield is hoping to activate the area in and around the village hall by enhancing the property surrounding the historic Grossdale Station at 8820½ Brookfield Ave.
The old train depot, built in 1889 and moved to its present location on the site of the old village hall by the Brookfield Historical Society in 1981, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building houses the Brookfield History Museum and is owned and maintained by the historical society, which refurbished the interior and updated exhibits in conjunction with the village’s 125th anniversary in 2018.
But a double whammy of the COVID-19 pandemic and the two-year construction of the Brookfield Avenue bridge has shut down the museum and its grounds, which are owned by the village of Brookfield and had been used to host Parks & Recreation special events, including movie nights and murder mystery events.
Now village officials are hoping to tap into a state grant program aimed at revitalizing tourism. In July, Gov. J.B Pritzker announced that $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds were being earmarked for the state’s Tourism Attraction and Festivals Grant program.
Brookfield plans on requesting a $500,000 grant, which requires an equal match from the village, to construct a permanent brick paver patio area to the east of the old depot adjacent to Salt Creek and a display building to house the village’s antique Ahrens-Fox fire engine.
“Being able to apply for this grant, and if awarded, we would be able to redevelop that site space for long-term vision planning of opening up that museum, being able to have visitors drawn to that facility, to house special events,” Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari told village trustees at their Sept. 12 committee of the whole meeting.
Having the museum open more regularly and hosting events on the property could help draw more people to the downtown area, she added.
Ferrari said the patio area would be a place where the village could place tents, tables and chairs for outdoor events. The village might also consider creating a future “overlook” extension along the riverbank, though the grant application does not include such a feature at this time.
The display building for the Ahrens-Fox fire truck, which has been in the village’s possession since it was purchased in 1924, would allow for the vehicle to be seen for more than the one time a year it’s brought out for the July 4 parade.
That new building would be constructed north of the Grossdale Station and would be separate from the museum. However, it would also complement the museum and its mission and could house other fire department-related artifacts the historical society owns.
For example, in the museum’s collection is one of the five original fire hose carts acquired by the village between 1903 and 1905. At that time, the hose carts were housed in barns, coach houses or purpose-built sheds on both public and private property throughout Brookfield.
The historical society acquired one of the 1905 hose carts in 1989 and it’s one display inside the Grossdale station, though it would make sense to display it in a building with the Ahrens-Fox engine.
Kit Ketchmark, a village trustee who is also the longtime director of the Brookfield Historical Society, said he would favor a display building design using one of the old hose cart sheds as an inspiration.
None of those sheds survive. However, an old barn that housed horses and a hose cart that was built in 1895 at the home of John W. Gross, the brother of village founder S.E. Gross, at DuBois and Rochester avenues, survived until it was demolished in 2006.
“It’s much more than a garage,” Ketchmark said of the building to house the fire engine. “It’s almost like a museum annex.”
Grant applications are due back to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity by Sept. 23. If successful, the project would be included in Brookfield’s 2023 budget.