MOUND CITY — Frederick D. Medler simply cannot help it.
Whenever he sees a historical or architecturally interesting building in peril, he is compelled to do what he can to save it.
“I guess I’ve got an edifice complex,” Medler said with a laugh.
Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for three historic buildings, Medler’s view from the veranda of Wall Manor in Mound City led him to his latest rescues.
Medler moved to the elegant house on the city’s High Street almost six years ago. The manor, owned by friends, provided a respite for Medler, who trained as an architect and spent more than 30 years working in historic restoration and renovation in St. Louis.
“I came here primarily to look after Wall Manor and to decompress, to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said.
He found Southern Illinois to his liking.
Once I was down here, I fell in love with this part of the state. South of Marion, the scenery is breathtaking — hilly, picturesque, beautiful,” he said, adding that the pace of life is also a positive. “Pulaski and Alexander counties each have only two stoplights. In the city, you’re stopping at every block.”
Not long after his arrival, his gaze set upon three buildings — two churches and an old train depot — near the manor.
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The buildings, long abandoned, were beautifully constructed, but in dire need of care. At first, after asking owners’ permission, Medler did what he could to get the buildings stable, weatherproof and tidy.
He cleaned up long-neglected yards, chopping down poison oak vines and overgrown brush and picking up trash. He replaced broken windows and used a rake to clear piles of hypodermic needles littering the interior of the depot.
Last year, he was able to purchase the buildings and continue his restoration efforts. He’s moved his studio into the old New York Central Depot, a shingle-style structure built around 1878, with 14.5 foot ceilings.
He shares the space with six cats, also abandoned and in need of care, and there, he works on projects including plans to revitalize not only Mound City and Mounds, but also Cairo.
“Cairo has the same footprint it had 100 years ago. There’s been no urban sprawl,” he said. “It could be a leading example in urban renewal. I know it is in a flood plain but so are many other nearby cities along rivers, like Paducah, and Charleston and Sikeston, Missouri.”
He would like to see Cairo become a major tourist center, with a river promenade lined by shops, lodging, a cultural center and museum. His plans even include a monorail.
“(Famed architect) Daniel Burnham said to make no little plans, for they do not have the power to change men’s souls. I don’t see any way to save Cairo other than to think big. It’s in a slow decline,” he said.
Medler will continue to work on his properties in Mound City as he fine tunes his plan for Cairo. He hopes one day to move his studio into one of the churches, turn the other into a private community or arts center, and perhaps open a train museum in the historic depot.
“I’m trying to preserve a part of history. These buildings are beautifully handcrafted with exquisite workmanship. What astonishes me is how we throw away the legacy we received from our ancestors. We discard it like trash,” he said. “Even if I never get these buildings done, it’s important that I keep trying, that I never give up. I want to get this area looking really nice to inspire others and inspire me.”