FILE - Eternal Indian

The Eternal Indian statue in Oregon, Illinois.

Work is now underway to restore a northern Illinois landmark.

The Eternal Indian statue at Lowden State Park near Oregon has spent most of the past five years under a plastic covering to protect it from the elements. The site first was identified as being in danger of deterioration more than a decade ago.

“In 2009, with the state’s previous capital bill, there was some money set aside for this project,” said State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon. “The appropriation was there, but the money never made its way to the Department of Natural Resources to do the work.”

The delay meant even more exposure for the 108-year-old, 50-foot-tall statue that sits on the bluffs overlooking the Rock River. There were worries the statue might deteriorate past the point of no return.

“If you can imagine where the elbows are, those points showed quite a bit of wear,” Demmer said. “There was a lot of crumbling there, and we were really getting to a point of some significant structural problems in that area.”

Finding the funds to complete the work had been a roadblock. Money raised early on went to attempts to temporarily preserve and protect the structure, as well as for engineering studies to determine what materials to use for the more permanent repairs.

After years of promises, the state has come through with some money to assist the effort.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised from private donors,” Demmer said. “The state now has put in $350,000. But local donors have raised more than $500,000 for the project. So it’s primarily funded by private donors.”

The Eternal Indian statue, also known as the Black Hawk statue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The statue is such an iconic site for the community of Oregon, Ogle County, and all of northern Illinois,” Demmer said. “To see the statue up there, but covered in shrink wrap every winter for the last several years to protect it from further erosion and damage, it’s a reminder that what’s underneath there is something everybody really looks up to.”

The renovations, when finished, could also boost tourism in the area.

“There’s a couple of state parks in that area that generate a significant amount of tourism for the community,” Demmer said. “A huge number of visitors who come to town for outdoor activities. Really, the Black Hawk statue is the crown of the area.”

Workers now are filling cracks and resurfacing the statue. Repairs are scheduled to be complete by early November.

“This is a very substantial restoration. It’s far beyond just a patchwork job. You have to balance both the desire, from an engineering perspective, to make the statue as strong and resilient as you can while respecting the original artistic integrity of the structure,” Demmer said.

The Center Square Contributor

A radio veteran with nearly twenty years of experience, Scot Bertram is the General Manager of Radio Free Hillsdale 101.7 FM, the student radio station at Hillsdale College. Bertram is also the co-host of "Political Beats" for National Review Online.