Skip to Content
200 North Main St | Bloomington, Illinois | 309-827-0428
/ Blog / Post
3 mins read

Questers help restore priceless 1873 ‘bird’s eye’ view of Bloomington

Museum staff recognized the local Jesse Fell chapter of Questers International. This group, dedicated to the study and preservation of historical objects, oversaw a $1,500 donation to pay for a professional restoration of the Museum’s rare 1873 “bird’s eye” view of Bloomington.

International Questers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and preservation of historical objects, donated $1,500 to the McLean County Museum of History for the restoration of a priceless 1873 "bird's eye" view of Bloomington. Half the donation came from Illinois State Questers and the other half from the local Jesse Fell Chapter, the latter raised by way of garage sales. This significant donation to the McLean County Museum of History was undertaken by the Jesse Fell Chapter to commemorate its 50th anniversary.

The Questers Chapter and the staff of the McLean County Museum of History will recognize this important gift on Monday, October 10, at 3:00 p.m. in the Museum's second floor Governor Fifer Courtroom.

“The Museum had long wished to restore this beautiful print, but as a not-for-profit organization we have limited funds for such work,” said Museum Librarian Bill Kemp. “With the generous support of Questers we are now able to ensure that this invaluable historical print will be enjoyed by many generations to come.”

“This project also shows how important it is for local heritage organizations to partner together to accomplish amazing things,” added Bill.

The total restoration cost was $1,920, with the Museum paying the $420 difference. Timothy Kent Gallery & Framing of Bloomington then helped reframe the bird's eye under non-reflective, "conservation" glass that will protect it from harmful ultraviolet light. An additional $250 donation from the Questers’ Jesse Fell Chapter helped the Museum pay for the reframing.

What is a bird's eye?

The Bloomington bird’s eye, drawn by Augustus Koch and published in 1873 by the Chicago Lithographing Co., measures 26 by 36 inches. Wonderfully detailed “bird’s eye” views of towns and cities were all the rage in the latter half of the 19th century. Drawn by itinerant artists and then sold as commercial prints, these aerial views offered hometown residents a unique perspective of their

community—much like Google Earth does today. Published as poster-size lithographs from hand-drawn sketches, they showed not only the street grid, but also each and every house, school, church, factory, commercial block and railroad depot, many realistically rendered with regards to building size and architectural style.

The recently restored bird’s eye offers a wealth of information about Bloomington in 1873. On the city’s west side points of interest include the surface operations of the McLean County Coal

Company, the old fairgrounds, and the Chicago & Alton Railroad shops. To the east one can see the David Davis mansion (completed just a year before) and the Illinois Central Railroad (today Constitution Trail. On the north side there’s Franklin Park, as well as an accurate depiction of the 1869 Civil War memorial that once occupied its center. If you own a Bloomington home that dates to 1873 or before, chances are that a good likeness of it appears in this lithograph.

The 1873 Bloomington's bird's eye, which for many years was hung in the Museum’s Library/Archives Reading Room, was beginning to show its age. During its 143 years it had been subjected to the damaging vagaries of sunlight, humidity, mold, possible water damage, and “off-gassing” from the old frame's wood backing. The bird’s eye will soon be re-hung in the Museum Reading Room for all to enjoy.

“Pre- and post-restoration photographs of the bird’s eye offer dramatic evidence as to the success of this project,” Bill said. “Much of the staining and spotting are gone and the restored print is so much clearer and brighter. It’s a night-and-day comparison, really.”

The restoration work was completed by the Graphic Conservation Company. Situated in Chicago’s South Loop, this nationally recognized firm operates a state-of-the-art, 8,000 square foot paper conservation laboratory. High-profile projects undertaken by the Graphic Conservation Company include restoration of a copy of the 13th Amendment signifying the end of slavery and signed by President Lincoln; a copy of the Gettysburg Address; Frank Lloyd Wright blueprints; and an 1895 work by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Questers is an international organization founded in 1944. Today there are approximately 11,000 chapters in the United States and Canada with 41 chapters throughout Illinois.

The large print will be re-hung in the Museum Library’s Reading Room so visitors and researchers can once more make use of this invaluable resource.

Bill Kemp

Bill Kemp

Bill Kemp is the Librarian at the McLean County Museum of History