By Bob Uphues
On Nov. 10, 1894, the townsfolk of Riverside Township braved the cold and gathered just west of the Riverside Refectory (now the former Youth Center building) to witness a bit of history.
Under the direction of the Masons from the Grand Lodge of Illinois, decked out in their bricklayers' aprons and top hats, the township laid the cornerstone for its new stone and brick home.
The township board a year earlier authorized spending $15,000 to build the French chateau-style building, designed by architect George Ashby, who was paid 4 percent of the construction cost as his fee. A newspaper article from 1894 indicated the building would end up costing about $26,000.
The building itself wouldn't open for business for another year, but it had staying power.
On Nov. 3, a chilly but bright day in downtown Riverside, the Masons from the Grand Lodge of Illinois returned to rededicate the cornerstone to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the original event.
"This cornerstone has been tested by the proper implements of Masonry," said Michael E. Jackson, deputy grand master of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, who presided over the formal cornerstone rededication ritual. "I find that the craftsmen have skillfully and faithfully done their duty. And I do declare the stone to be well-formed and trusty, truly laid and correctly proved according to the rules of our ancient craft."
The event -- which included a parade of Masons, accompanied by bagpipers, from the train station to the township hall and featured patriotic songs sung by an a cappella choir from Riverside-Brookfield High School -- centered mainly on the Masons' ritual rededication of the cornerstone.
The only disappointment was that the time capsule, sealed behind the cornerstone in 1894, had been largely destroyed by water that had seeped into the chamber over the decades.
Riverside Township Supervisor Vera Wilt had the foresight of not waiting until the rededication on Nov. 3 to retrieve the capsule with the help of Deputy Fire Chief William Sherman and Rick Rovella of Riverside Garage.
"I didn't want a Geraldo's vault situation," said Wilt, referring to the infamous 1986 TV special built around Geraldo Rivera opening up what he purported to be Al Capone's secret vault. The space turned out to be empty.
It turned out that the tin or lead time capsule box from 1894 has been reduced to corroded fragments and its largely paper contents were wadded into a ball. Despite being told they were a complete loss, apart from a set of coins dating from between 1853 and 1894, Wilt personally teased out several items.
Among the items partially rescued were records of township and village leadership, pages from the Riverside Record newspaper, including a short notice about the then still-to-come cornerstone dedication event.
The time capsule also included business cards of township and village officials, the architect and his draftsmen and a train schedule from the date of the ceremony. Several of the items, including the box shards and some of the papers are on display in a case in the lobby of the Riverside Township Hall, just outside the township office.
A new time capsule is scheduled to be sealed behind the cornerstone, which is located at the northeast corner of the building, near the police department. This capsule, it is hoped, will be a little more durable. The stainless steel cylinder, to be opened in 75 years on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the cornerstone ceremony, contains items similar to the original – a 2019 proof set of coins, business cards of township officials, winning essays by local school children related to the 125th anniversary event and items associated with the Masons.