The Gaylord Building is transformed from industrial ruin to a model of adaptive reuse.

The Gaylord Building:
A Corridor Catalyst

The oldest remaining commercial building in the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor, the Gaylord Building had seen a lot of canal life. Built in 1838 and later expanded in 1859, the limestone structure has seen a variety of uses over more than a century. But by the early 1980s, the building had fallen into disrepair and needed some help.

Canal Corridor Association’s own Jerry Adelmann had noticed the building. He knew of its history – and its potential. Aware that the Gaylord family had once owned the building, he approached family descendent and philanthropist Gaylord Donnelley and his niece Barbi Donnelley, an avid preservationist, to explore the possibility of rehabilitating the historic building.

Indeed, they were interested. But Mr. Donnelley had concerns that extended beyond the building. A major manufacturer had recently pulled out of Lockport and left 600 Lockport residents out of work, hitting the community hard. He wanted to be sure that rehabilitating his forebears’ building would be a catalyst for economic development in Lockport by spurring revitalization of the downtown

Around the same time, Mr. Adelmann and other civic and business leaders were working hard to achieve federal designation for the canal corridor. Mr. Donnelley felt the designation would enable the rehab project to do the greatest good, sparking similar projects and heritage tourism throughout the corridor. Corridor advocates lobbied the Illinois delegation, and Mr. Donnelley personally lobbied Senator Charles Percy, saying he did not feel comfortable proceeding without creation of the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor.

His steadfastness paid off when President Reagan signed the legislation in 1984 creating the nation’s first heritage corridor. The Gaylord Lockport Company, with leadership by Barbi Donnelley, began work on the Gaylord Building rehab six months later. In 1987 the building opened to the public, featuring the Public Landing restaurant.

The project was so cutting edge and well-executed that President Reagan himself recognized the Gaylord Building by personally presenting Mr. Donnelley with a President’s Award for Historic Preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation now owns the Gaylord Building Historic Site and Canal Corridor Association manages it. The building is a hub of canal exhibits, tours and programs. It is truly a centerpiece of the I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor and a testament to the vision of those who made its rebirth a reality.


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