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Local News

Frankfort's historic downtown creates 1890s atmosphere

Downtown area identifies ‘emotion and connection’ for visitors

FRANKFORT – Anyone who walks through Frankfort’s historic district will notice the buildings and streets seem to date back to the 1800s.

That’s not by accident. The village has guidelines for developers who work in the downtown area to ensure the buildings have an 1890s appearance.

Richard Wright, Rowhouse Ltd. builder and developer who works in Frankfort, said the area is a destination point for residents and travelers alike, and the architecture gives the area a “quaint or homey” feeling.

“[Village officials] are sensitive to it in this historic downtown area. They have a designation where this is the historic section,” Wright said. “I think it gives a quaint feeling, with all the events they do down here.”

Though many downtowns have consistent building designs, the unique style of Frankfort’s business area represents the community’s identity, Village Administrator Jerald Ducay said.

“We think our downtown sets us apart in different ways,” he said. “It identifies the emotion and connection you get when you talk about a special place.” 

Mayor Jim Holland said the Frankfort community has been concerned about the image and character of its downtown for decades. 

“I think the people consider it a value to preserve an image, to preserve a feeling, to preserve what they think is a really nice downtown,” he said. 

Ducay said village officials try to create a family friendly downtown that is “beautifully maintained.” He said it’s been an ongoing process for the past 20 years, and the village has made about $10 million in investments.

In the past five to 10 years, the village has worked on the finishing touches to downtown benches and flower gardens. He said the village also tries to make use of the area through community events, such as Frankfort Fall Festival or the Winter on the Green event. 

“All of these are pieces of a bigger puzzle,” he said. 

Even though Frankfort was founded in 1855 and incorporated in 1879, most of the standing architecture is from the 1890s, and that is what is preserved, said Marcia Steward, Frankfort Historic Preservation Foundation and 1890s committee member. 

“It was easier to project from that time period because of the existing building and homes,” she said.

Wright said during the fall festival, the downtown area becomes a destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors. The area’s architecture is one of its draws.

“That’s what people buy into. People like it because it looks like this,” he said. 

Wright is working on the construction of a new building in the village called the Sangmeister office building, which will feature the same 1890s architectural style. 

Like many buildings downtown, the project plans were approved by the village’s 1890s theme committee. The committee reviews plans to see if they follow historic preservation design guidelines

The guidelines are meant to “establish criteria for the construction of new buildings and for remodeling of existing structures,” and not to restrict imagination, innovation or variety, according to village records.

In the historic district, there is Francesca’s Fortunato restaurant, Breidert Green Park, Lil Surprises gift shop and Fringe Boutique. There also is the KidsWork Children’s Museum, which has trolleys.

Many of the buildings date back to the 1800s. Ducay said developers sometimes will use modern materials to create different historical period styles, blending them together.

“We try to bring modern amenities while still evoking a traditional quality look and streetscape,” he said. 

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