After years of planning and 18 months of renovations totaling about $22 million, the historic Old McHenry County Courthouse and Sheriff’s House will soon be open with a new name, a new look, more tenants, a new purpose, and an even more exciting future on Woodstock’s Historic Square.
The buildings have been extensively renovated and the results will have a huge impact on the city for decades to come, says Woodstock Mayor Mike Turner.
“After the renovation, people will say it’s a magnificent building, an iconic part of Woodstock, and they are glad we did it,” says Turner. “It’s a great investment in our community and will be an economic driver for years to come, bringing more and more people to Woodstock to visit, work, live and play.”
The majestic anchor of the historic Woodstock Square, now dubbed Old Courthouse Center, is expected to open in mid-August. An open house and other events are being planned so the public can meet new tenants, tour the building, and enjoy some food, drinks and live music to celebrate this moment in history.
Among the new tenants inside, The Public House Restaurant will occupy the entire ground floor. The Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, the Real Woodstock visitors center and Makity Make DIY Craft Studio, of Algonquin, are established on the main level.
Upstairs, Events at Ethereal of Woodstock takes up the entire third floor with a premier events center. There’s a banquet room for up to 180 seated guests, a lounge, a bridal room and a shared kitchen, which doubles as a commercial kitchen for small-scale food vendors.
Over in the old Sheriff’s House, MobCraft Brewing of Milwaukee opens its newest location. MobCraft specializes in craft beers, many inspired by public recommendations.
Several small spaces within the Old Courthouse fall under the 101 Incubator Retail Program, which allows startup businesses to move in for a limited time.
“We are looking for places that have been selling online only or working out of a home,” says Woodstock City Planner Darrell Moore. “We are hopeful we can provide that place for businesses to get their feet on the ground and then grow larger and move out, so there are new places for visitors to shop every year.”
When renovations began on the courthouse in February 2022, it had been decades since serious repairs were done to the 166-year-old building. Now, it’s fully revitalized for a new generation.
Renovations include structural repairs, stabilizing and connecting the courthouse and Sheriff’s House, taking down plaster walls and old ceilings, and installing a new roof, windows, stairs and dome. All mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems were replaced and updated, and a geothermal heating and cooling system was added.
The building now has its first-ever elevator, complete with a second stairway in a glass-walled addition in the back of the building.
The Old McHenry County Courthouse, built in 1857, is one of the oldest buildings on the historic Woodstock Square. It was designed by John Mills Van Osdel, chief architect of the Palmer House in Chicago. Located in the exact center of the county, the building was joined by the accompanying Sheriff’s House and Jail in 1887 and was issued landmark status by the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
For over a century, the old Courthouse served residents until a new government center was built in 1972. Local residents purchased the historic buildings in 1973 and established an art gallery, studios, restaurant and museum spaces.
The city took over from a private owner in 2012. While the future of the courthouse was being decided, Rockford’s Studio GWA, led by historic preservation advocate Gary W. Anderson, made a professional assessment of the buildings, outlined needed repairs and estimated costs. Two studies evaluated the community’s needs and the best reuse of the buildings.
More recently, Studio GWA has returned to determine the cost of future additions that could include more event and banquet space, boutiques, a hotel, a museum and/or a cafe.
The renovations to the Old Courthouse are paid for by the sale of governments bonds, which will be paid back with rent money from tenants and supplemented with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds. The city has partnered with PNC Bank and will use their staff and experience to secure state and federal tax credits of more than $5 million, say Moore and Turner.
“This renovation adds to our already vibrant downtown and elevates us as a community by defining who we are,” says Turner. “I’m proud the City Council made the decision to invest at the level we did, without raising property taxes or affecting the city budget.”
Old Courthouse Center is located at 101 N. Johnson St., on the Historic Woodstock Square in Woodstock.