Save Our Chautauqua

HELP!!! We REALLY need your help now, or we WILL lose this incredibly unique and special building! My name is Mark Shanks, and I’m chairman of the Save Our Chautauqua Committee. We operate under the Shelbyville Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, dedicated to improving and enhancing the community of Shelbyville Illinois.

About the Chautauqua Building

Shelbyville’s Historic Chautauqua building is a truly one-of-a-kind building, unique in it’s architecture and construction, and recognized as the world’s only remaining example of this ingenious type of construction. This 20-sided, round, wooden structure, with it’s incredible radial roof, and beautiful performance stage was built in 1903, in our City park, at the height of the Chautauqua religious revival movement. In it’s heyday, up to 5,000 people (the entire population of modern day Shelbyville) would gather in the park, staying for weeks in tents and cabins, to attend Chautauqua events and performances here.

The building has continued to serve as a gathering place for countless community events, musical performances, political and educational speeches, festivals and celebrations for over a century. It serves as the focal point of our city park, and the very symbol and logo for our community.

Robert Root Sculptures

Above center stage, sit the three muses. These sculptures represent Art, Music and Drama, and are the theme for which the stage and building were originally built. They were created by famed local artist and sculptor Robert Marshall Root when the building was built. These beautiful works of art alone make the building worth saving.

Efforts to Save the Building

Our group has been working hard for many years to save and restore this incredible building, after it began falling into disrepair, due to city budget constraints and neglect.

In 2009, Landmarks Illinois placed the building on it's list of most endangered structures in Illinois. Sadly, it's still on there.

We’ve raised, and spent, nearly $200,000 over the past several years, and used both hired and volunteer labor for various repairs, including replacement of windows, painting the exterior, a temporary roof surface, major structural repairs to the roof truss system, electrical upgrades and various restoration projects.

Until recently, we were progressing nicely on the path needed to secure and save the building, with our next major undertaking to be replacing the roof, which has leaked for many years, and is decades past its useful life-span.

Unfortunately, we recently suffered a major setback.

Last summer, we noticed sagging in a few of the tension rods which act as the “spokes” of the “bicycle wheel” roof. This concerned us greatly, since our recent structural reinforcement work had included tightening and tensioning all of the spokes. We immediately contacted our engineer, whose inspection revealed severe moisture rot at a few of the critical joints where the 20 roof trusses meet their support columns that surround the building, which bear the weight of the entire roof.

One column is literally split in half, and the joint has completely failed. This is all the result of our neglecting to replace the roof in a timely manner, and the many ensuing years of moisture running down these roof joists, and into the joints. Not all joists are affected. Three were discovered to be badly damaged, and three more show concerns. The rest are unaffected, since no roof leaks were directly over those beams.

As an emergency measure, we immediately authorized $5,000 in engineering work, and then $40,000 to install temporary steel shoring posts for the 3 most significantly damaged trusses. This work has been done, depleting most of our current funds, in an effort to buy us more time to raise money for the permanent repairs.

The upshot. We need $400,000 - $500,000 to replace the damaged columns, cut out, and repair the water damaged ends of the joists, and to replace the roof. This is a bigger expense than we can undertake on our own. If not addressed very soon, the roof beams will fail, possibly with the next heavy snow load. At that point, demolition of the building will be the only option.

We are desperate to save this building, and our situation is dire. Without repair of these columns and joists soon, the building WILL fail soon. We are currently engaged in applying for several federal and private grants, as well as sending pleas to several potential donors, in the hope that some person(s) or organization(s) will recognize the value of this treasure, and help us save it.

But all of these grants are matching grants, meaning we’ll need to come up with our half of the funds, even if we are successful in being awarded a major grant. I currently serve on the City Council, and believe we can count on some support for a portion of the funds needed, but definitely not all of it.

Using the Building

A few years back, when the health of the building became in question, much public discussion centered around the ultimate fate of the building. Most people in the community were in favor of saving the building, with some concerned about where the money would come from, and many voicing the opinion that if we are going to save the building, we need to use it, since it had been underutilized in the recent past.

Our group developed a viable Business and Use plan, and began scheduling many events and cultural activities in the building, as we began bringing the building back to life. We also included in our plan, a proposal for historical displays to line the interior walls of the building, depicting the history of Shelbyville and Shelby County, and highlighting our Abraham Lincoln heritage. We plan to then have this Historical Museum open to the public regularly, as a further use and income stream for the maintenance of the building, along with income from rentals, and public and private events.

What we will do with money raised, if we CAN’T save the building?

I’ve pledged to fight hard to make sure that no money raised for SAVING the building, will be used for demolition of the building, should our efforts be unsuccessful. If we are ultimately unable to save the building, the Shelbyville Foundation will administer all remaining donated funds for beautification and historic preservation in the City of Shelbyville, as they see fit. In any case, your donation WILL serve a valuable purpose.

Please Help Us

We believe strongly that it’s each generation’s obligation to be stewards of our community’s assets and infrastructure, and that we are responsible to hand over those assets to the next generation, in the best manor and condition we can. The communities which strive to preserve what is unique and special about themselves, are the communities that are most successful and prosperous in the future.

Please consider helping us, by donating to save this wonderful, unique, grand and historic structure. You are our last, best hope, and without your support, this building WILL soon be lost to history. Your contribution is tax deductible.

Thank you,

The Shelbyville Save Our Chautauqua Committee


  • Tracey Danneberger 
    • $50 
    • 10 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $100 
    • 22 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $10 
    • 24 mos
  • Sandy Smith 
    • $50 
    • 26 mos
  • Alesha Defend 
    • $200 
    • 26 mos
See all


Mark Shanks 
Shelbyville, IL
Shelbyville Area Community Foundation 
Registered nonprofit
Donations are 100% tax deductible.
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