Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson leads the way to the Wagner Building, which has been on Flossmoor Road since 1889 and will house the village’s historical society. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)
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Flossmoor historical society acquires Wagner Building to serve as space for history and arts

Flossmoor has a new historical society, and it is moving quickly with plans for a history and arts center in a building with a significant past of its own, not far from downtown.

Officially known as the Foundation for the Preservation of Flossmoor History, the society in December announced that it acquired the Wagner Building, 2709 Flossmoor Road. The not-for-profit corporation plans to renovate the building to house historical artifacts and provide a space for the arts.

Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson, who also serves on the board of the foundation, said the vision is to create a multipurpose space for the village along one of its main thoroughfares and near the sculpture garden.

“We think it’s a great opportunity to create a building that is dynamic and that is active in ways that are in addition to celebrating our history, to make it more of an active space on a daily basis,” she said.

  • Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson leads the way to the Wagner Building, which has been on Flossmoor Road since 1889 and will house the village’s historical society. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)
    Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson leads the way to the Wagner Building, which has been on Flossmoor Road since 1889 and will house the village’s historical society. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)

“Flossmoor has always valued arts. To me, tying in that value with our love of history and old homes and tours of those homes, to me that’s just an incredible opportunity.”

Planning for the historical society started roughly a year ago, Nelson said. The idea is to preserve and showcase the growth of Flossmoor, which will turn 100 years old as a municipality in 2024. The collection at the home is expected to feature thousands of photographs, maps and other archival materials, according to the society.

“We’ve got 100 years of history and 100-plus — sometimes 200 — new families moving into town every single year,” Nelson said. “I think it’s important for folks to learn about the efforts of those who have loved and cared for Flossmoor who came before them, and hopefully help people get to know their neighborhood and be a part of their neighborhood in a similar way.”

And the Wagner Building could be the perfect site for that mission, with its own history dating back to 1889, when it was built on the corner of Flossmoor Road and Leavitt Avenue. Nelson said that makes it Flossmoor’s oldest commercial building, initially serving as a general store before becoming A.L. Wagner & Co. Real Estate.

Alvin Wagner Jr., who had owned the building since 1965 before recently donating it to the society, was brought home from the hospital after his birth to that building when his father owned it, Nelson said. Wagner was raised in the building up until college, and after school he returned to open an appraisal business there.

The Wagner family also built the Civic Center building at Flossmoor Road and Sterling Avenue, the cornerstone of what is now Flossmoor’s central business district, in 1929.

“Al’s history here, his family’s history here in the village of Flossmoor, is extremely extensive,” Nelson said. “Al was looking for a way to preserve that history. We were looking for a way to shine a spotlight on our history and also to take a building that has been vacant for almost 20 years and reimagine it so that it would become a productive and engaging space in the community.”

But getting it there will not come cheap. The foundation has already begun a $500,000 fundraising campaign to restore the property. Nelson said the building needs “significant” foundation work, a new roof, plumbing, HVAC, windows, siding and “minor” interior cosmetic work. The money will also go toward preserving maps, appraisals, photos and other materials of historical significance to Flossmoor dating back to the early 1900s, thousands of which were also donated by Wagner. Nelson said they plan to archive, digitize and preserve those for people to enjoy for years to come.

The foundation already offered small group tours during Wagner Welcome events on Dec. 14 and 21. In addition to the building, the foundation showed off renderings of a gathering space for small concerts, guest speakers, artists and more. The building is also to be used for educational outreach to local schools, office space for the society and community organizations, and a meeting space for community use and arts programming, per the foundation.

“We would love to have all of the money fundraised in 2023 and begin the work late 2023 and have it open in time for our centennial in 2024,” Nelson said.

There are more than 700 historical societies across Illinois, Nelson said, but up until now there has not been one in Flossmoor. She sees having a place to celebrate the village’s history, in addition to hosting the arts, the sign of a strong community. So, she and the rest of the foundation are out to change that statistic.

“I think this is a pretty neat town, with a lot going for it in terms of diversity and home values and education,” Nelson said. “This is just a really neat opportunity to highlight our village.”

In addition to money, the foundation is seeking donations of building materials, labor, artifacts and stories. For more information about the project or to donate, visit flossmoorhistory.org.

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