Million-dollar appropriation for Lincoln law office questioned

Pete Sherman

A $1 million appropriation for the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices in Springfield, revealed in Gov. Pat Quinn’s capital budget for the 2010 fiscal year, has raised eyebrows among supporters of other state-owned historic sites that have been closed since late last year because of budget cuts.

However, state officials overseeing the law office site, at the southeast corner of the Old State Capitol Plaza, say the $1 million falls under an entirely different funding category that can’t be used to pay for day-to-day operating expenses.

“You can’t use the money to operate historic sites,” said Justin Blandford, superintendent for historic sites managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. “This is part of the state’s capital budget, versus the operating budget.”

Such appropriations are often tied to selling bonds and other instruments, Blandford said. Paying day-to-day expenses with such funds is prohibited.

The $1 million, which site supporters have sought for years, is to help buy property just west of the Law Offices site and complete a design plan for restoring a federal courthouse, recreating a 1840s dry-good store operated by Seth Tinsley and making the law offices more historically accurate.

The so-called Tinsley Project, not to be confused with the privately run Tinsley Dry Goods Gift Shop just south of the Lincoln law office, will take at least a couple of years to complete,  Blandford said. The cost of the entire project was estimated a couple years ago at $8 million.

“This is a serious project, with a lot of research behind it and a lot of research to go,” Blandford said.

“This would be huge for Springfield and Illinois,” said Dana Homann, owner of the current Tinsley Dry Goods Shop, which connects to the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices site and leases space from the Old State Capitol Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the historic law office and the Old State Capitol.

The Tinsley Project, which calls for living history presentations of the 1840s collection of establishments during the time Lincoln practiced law there, might also sell real goods, Blandford said.

What that means for Homann’s shop is unclear, he said. However, Homann, a long-time supporter of the foundation, is optimistic.

“We’ve had a real good relationship,” she said. “If things work out, it will be positive for both of us. We’re just at a wait-and-see point. But we can’t see anything negative happening.”

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site is one of the sites affected by the state’s budget cutbacks. It currently is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays only.

Pete Sherman can be reached at (217) 788-1539

On the Net

Information about the Tinsley Project :

Information about the private Tinsley Dry Goods Gift Shop: