Justin Blandford is Superintendent of the State Historic Sites in Springfield for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. His background as a historian has led him to oversee and work on a variety of historic preservation projects in the State of Illinois. Even though he is not an architect, Blandford plays an integral role in the historic preservation process alongside architects, engineers, community members, and more. Blandford truly understands the importance of a strong team when working on a project, especially when it comes to historic preservation.
One shining example of a historical preservation team’s success starts all the way back in the 1960s in Illinois. At this time, something like historic preservation was unheard of. A few innovative young architects had a passion and an idea to reconstruct the Old State Capitol building to its former glory during Lincoln’s days. They were also tasked to address the issue of parking in downtown Springfield. This massive project would require a team with diverse backgrounds to get the job done. With the help of engineers, tradespeople, women in the Junior League, and community members, the State Capitol was recreated and still stands today – as an awe-inspiring museum with an underground parking garage that continues to attract tourists from all over. Through extensive research and planning, brick-by-brick, the team was able to recreate the building exactly to what Lincoln had worked in throughout his years as a lawmaker and politician, eventually leaving for his presidency in Washington, D.C. This work could not have been done so thoughtfully and precisely without the hands and minds of all those who participated.
Blandford recognizes projects like this and holds his projects up to those high standards with a commitment to excellence. Historic preservation projects are challenging for a number of reasons, but a big challenge is getting the project just right to ensure there are no broken links in the chain. Completing a project successfully means that more people will see the importance and value of historic preservation. What many people fail to think about is that historic preservation is a catalyst for jobs, local economies, and tourism. Historic buildings are pillars for so many communities, and it’s truly amazing to think about the fact that 100 years from now, people may still be visiting the State Capitol as it was when Lincoln was alive.
Going beyond just preserving history, Blandford continues to work with architects on enhancing the visitor experience at the sites he oversees. He has been involved in a wide variety of projects from Frank Llyod Wright structures to several monuments dedicated to veterans and Abraham Lincoln. Each come with their own goals and challenges of finding the perfect balance between preserving the past and creating a brand new experience. Monuments can serve multiple roles: a site for visitors and a memorial to pay tribute. Blandford and his team take these different roles into careful consideration when planning a project and truly wants to create something that will fill both roles beautifully.
When historians, architects, and community members team up to work toward a common goal, an amazing impact can be made throughout the community and the people that visit. Want to learn more about Justin’s role in historic preservation in Illinois? See his full interview below.