Remnants of a bygone era
Several of Monmouth’s quirky voting houses still stand
MONMOUTH, Ill. — For more than 50 years, Monmouth may have been one of the only cities in the country to maintain 10 public buildings that were open only two days a year — in April and November.
More specifically, the buildings were owned by Monmouth Township, which rented them out as polling places to the city or county on election day, depending on which was having the election.
The tidy, white frame buildings contained only one room and for much of their existence were heated by a single oil stove.
The earliest of the buildings, all of which are still standing, were constructed in 1923 and 1924. In the latter year, S. A. Kernal built two polling places on South 8th Street for $700 each. The buildings were 24 feet by 16 feet with a concrete floor and hipped roof. They were finished inside with Cornell panels — an early wallboard.
Initially, it was assumed that the city would split the cost of construction with the township, but there being no funding available in the city budget, the council voted to rent the properties the following year.
The rationale for building the two buildings in 1924 was the abandonment of buildings that had previously served as polling places — the old Lowell School at 6th Street and 6th Avenue, and the old Monmouth College gymnasium (later the Little Theatre).
More voting houses were constructed in the 1930s and ’40s, so that by the mid-1950s there were 10 of the rarely used buildings scattered throughout the city. They were visited by voters in every precinct, except residents of Precinct 1, who voted in the courthouse or city hall, depending on the election.
By that time, the city was spending $12.50 to rent each building on election day.
The last election in which the voting houses were used was in November 1977. After months of extensive debate, the Warren County Board voted to purchase 18 electronic voting machines (called Video Voters) and four data centers, which allowed Monmouth Township’s 12 precincts to be consolidated into just four.
The following spring, Monmouth Township’s 6,650 voters got a chance to experience modern elections for the first time. Polling places that year were established at Oak Terrace Apartments, the Eagles Lodge, the Knights of Columbus Hall and the American Legion.
Meanwhile, township officials had to figure out what to do with 10 seldom-used buildings that were now never used.
The first building to be repurposed served a very practical purpose. For years, Monmouth Township had maintained an office on the second floor of the National Bank of Monmouth building — a location that was not easily accessible. So township officials decided to move the newest and largest former voting house, at 605 E. Girard Ave., to a vacant lot in the 300 block of East Archer.
In August 1978, the Lee White Housemoving Co. put the building on a trailer and moved it west to North Main, then around the Public Square and down Broadway to North 2nd Street, before arriving at its new location, which 44 years later is still home to the township office.
Several more of the voting houses were sold to private buyers in 1979 and later, being converted into workshops, garages and storage buildings. Another of the buildings, at 1233 E. Boston Ave., is still in use by the township.
Today, at least eight of the old polling places still stand. Besides the two owned by the township, they are located at 214 N. E St., 122 S. 8th St., 600 S. 8th St., 800 S. 5th St., 416 E. 5th Ave. and 419 W. Euclid.
No longer standing are voting houses at 512 N. 3rd St., 501 S. D St. and 218 W. 9th Ave.
Jeff Rankin is an editor and historian for Monmouth College. He has been researching, writing and speaking about western Illinois history for more than 40 years.